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Take full responsibility if lives are lost at south Mumbai fish market: Bombay HC tells BMC

"In such a case, the concerned officers of the Municipal Corporation, as well as the Mayor and the relevant corporator, would expose themselves to civil and criminal liability," a division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni said.

The Bombay high court

The Bombay High Court on Wednesday pulled up the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for operating the wholesale fish market on the ground floor of a South Mumbai building in a ‘precarious’ condition. The court said that the civic body will have to take full responsibility if its ceiling collapses resulting in loss of lives.

“In such a case, the concerned officers of the Municipal Corporation, as well as the Mayor and the relevant corporator, would expose themselves to civil and criminal liability,” a division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni said.

The bench also directed the BMC to file an affidavit in reply stating its plan of action to relocate the fish traders from the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj fish market, a wholesale fish market located near Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Market or Crawford Market in South Mumbai. The court also asked the BMC to give details of the present condition of the ground floor of the building where the fish market is situated.

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The court’s observations came as it was hearing a PIL filed by Asagar Abbas Shaikh, a fish merchant, through advocates Rajiv Narula and MA Khan seeking to direct BMC to temporarily shift the concerned fish market to Airoli Naka market. The plea said that while the upper floors of the building were demolished in 2016, the fish market continued to operate.

The bench observed, “There is propping almost all over, suggesting that lives of people operating from such fish market and/or working thereat could be at substantial risk in case the ceiling caves in.”

The court said earlier structural audit reports generated by BMC recommended that the entire building be razed since it has a very short lifespan, but “such report has not been given the credence it deserved.”

Senior Counsel Anil Sakhare representing BMC submitted that the civic body has plans to shift the fish traders in phases. “The situation is not that bad as projected by the petitioner so as to warrant immediate removal of all the fish traders and people associated with such trade,” he added.

The Court then asked the BMC to file an affidavit in reply by July 2, giving complete details as to how the corporation proposed to relocate the fish traders. However, Sakhare expressed inability to prepare the same by Friday and sought time for the same till Monday, July 5, which the court granted.

The bench noted, “The affidavit must also contain a statement assuring us that there is no imminent risk involved, which could result in casualties, but if any untoward incident or mishap occurs till such time all the fish traders are relocated in phases, involving loss of lives, the name(s) of the individual officer(s) who would be responsible therefore.”

The next hearing is on July 6.

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