Since 4 am when he landed at Mumbai airport, Laxman Gaundar had been harboring hope that his elder brother, Rajkumar Gaundar (53), would be alive. Rajkumar was last spotted by a poclain machine operator, Ramesh Patil, at 4.45 pm on the stairs of the under-construction Crystal Business Park building. The central portion of the building collapsed on Saturday at 5.30 pm.
Over 24 hours after a part of the building caved in under the weight of poclain machines, at least five persons are feared trapped under the mountain of debris. At 12.10 am Monday, the body of one labourer was recovered through joint efforts of the fire brigade, National Disaster Relief Force and locals. According to officials, the body has not been identified. It was sent to Rajawadi hospital. Labourer Gurahu Nandkal Malhar has been killed in the mishap and two others have been injured.
Over 20 labourers were believed to be working on the demolition site when a portion of the eight-storey building collapsed. “We contacted his mobile service provider to track Rajkumar’s location. The area shown is near the building collapse. But his phone is switched off,” Laxman says. Rajkumar has four daughters. The family resides in D N Nagar. On Sunday, his wife, Malhargudi Gaundar, took a flight from Chennai to reach Mumbai.
On Saturday, Rajkumar received a call from demolition contractor Bhagwan Singh to take payment for one poclain machine the former had provided. “He did not get the payment on site. So, he inspected the machine and left. The operator last saw him on the first floor,” Laxman said. His bike continues to remain parked outside the construction site while his poclain remains on top of the eighth floor, saved along with a defunct machine when two other machines collapsed into the central pit of the building. “It’s been a day now. I don’t know what to expect anymore,” Laxman bursts into tears.
“I saw the building collapse right in front of me. In panic, we all rushed down,” said Zia-ul-rehman, a labourer from West Bengal. His brother-in-law, Sharif-ul-Naseem, continues to remain missing. “How will I answer my sister?” Zia cries. He, along with his brother and Sharif lived and worked at the site. On Sunday, he finally communicated to his sister that Sharif may not be alive.
According to the BMC fire brigade, search operations were delayed because the entire debris was buried within the confines of the building structure. A portion of the building’s first floor had to be demolished to make way for heavy equipment. “We are slowly removing debris to create a clear passageway to enter and search for those trapped,” Avinash Dharamadhikari, senior police inspector, Saki Naka said.
In 2010, the Crystal Business Park started the construction of 15,000 square feet for commercial purpose. The plot roughly measures 4,450 square metres. While no official communication was made from Crystal Business Park, according to a manger, the building had permission to be constructed till the 15th floor. In 2012, the manager alleged, the construction was halted at the 13th floor. Onsite labourers, however, said the building was completed till the 16th floor by 2012. “We realised we may not get the sale value we anticipated. In 2016, plan to convert it into a residential building was taken,” the manager said.
The Crystal Business Park approached BMC (L ward) for demolition and change of name to residential building. “The permission to demolish was denied,” Pravin Vasawe, attached with building and factory department, L ward, said. In June this year, the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) gave the letter of intent to the developer for a construction transit camp.
Documents accessed by The Indian Express show the SRA asked the Building Proposal Department, L ward, on June 12 to furnish documents related to the project. “We could not approve the project before the closure report of the BMC was filed,” Pralhad Mahishi, executive engineer with SRA, said.
The BMC is yet to provide the closure report of Crystal Business Park, SRA officials said. The Letter of Intent from SRA shows the “scheme was approved under regulation 33(14)D of DCR-1991 by CEO of SRA” to build transit tenements. Under the scheme, a land owner can avail incentive buildable area against the construction of transit tenements on a portion of the built-up space. The incentive area can then be utilised for the builder’s free sale component.
Officials from Crystal Business park alleged that work order to demolish the structure was given to contractor Bhagwan Singh and his partner in January 2016. The demolition was supposed to be completed within four months. “This project is already delayed,” an official from the developer said.
Singh, police said, fled soon after the building collapsed. Labourers claim they have not been paid salary for the last two months. “Each of us had to receive 40,000-50,000 from the contractor,” Zia, a labourer, said. A work contract between Crystal developer and demolition contractor also put the responsibility of labour and accident on the contractor. On Sunday, rain and heavy debris delayed the search and rescue operations. Rescue workers and sniffer dogs continued to comb the heap of debris.