After eight days of search operations at the building collapse site in Chandivali, poclain machine owner Rajkumar Gaundar is still missing. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has handed over the charge of clearing out the debris the builder, Crystal Group. Earlier this week, the Sakinaka police registered a case of negligence against the builder and the two demolition contractors, Bhagwan Singh and Hamid Chaudhary. Chaudhary was arrested on September 1 and his detailed statement will be recorded Monday.
Seven people lost their lives and two others were injured after the eight-storey Crystal Business Park collapsed. The structure was being demolished since January. On August 26, its central portion came crashing down under the weight of two excavating machines kept on top of the building.
Investigations found that contractors had appointed no engineer for the demolition of the previously 16-storey building.
While Gaunder (53) is missing, two of the seven bodies recovered from beneath the debris are yet to be identified. Fire officials suspect one of them could be Gaunder. “All the debris has been cleared. We did not find any other body. There is a chance that he may have escaped before the building collapsed, or his could be one of the two unidentified bodies,” said a senior fire official.
Gaundar’s family will be shown the unidentified bodies for the second time to confirm if he is one of them. CCTV footage of the area shows him entering on a bike, but he cannot be seen leaving the site.
A fire official said that Crystal Group approached them this week for permission to clear the debris using their own contractor, and on September 2, the site was handed over to them. “We have not called off the rescue operation since there is still one other person missing. Fire officials have been deputed at the site, but for observation only,” he said.
Locals, however, alleged inaction on part of fire officials, and claimed Gaundar’s brother alone was coordinating with the BMC-appointed contractor for the search operation.
On Sunday, The Indian Express found no BMC L ward official on the site. However, 12 members of the Mumbai Fire Brigade were present. They claimed they could not do anything until the body was found. Rehman Surve, in-charge of fire brigade team, said, “We are deputed here to wait for the body. The clearance work is that of the contractor.” The National Disaster Relief Force was withdrawn earlier this week.
On August 26, Gaundar had visited the site to take payment for his contracted poclain machines. When the building collapsed, he was sipping tea on the first floor.
Bodies of labourers who were with him have been found. “I have been sitting here day and night. The search operation has been extremely slow and I don’t know what to do now. Civic officials said the debris around the building can be searched again to check if his body is there,” said Laxman Gaundar, Gaundar’s younger brother.
Locals criticised the BMC for slow search operations that have stretched for over a week now.
Defending the Fire Brigade, an official said during the week, the firemen had to divert their attention from the rescue operation to attend to calls during the flood on August 29, the Bhendi Bazaar building collapse, the festivals as well as other smaller building collapses.
“Even if the body has decomposed, there will be clothes or limbs found. But there is nothing,” a police officer said. It is suspected that the body may have been carried away in the debris during clearance operation. Gaundar was 93 kg and hefty, his family said. “It is unlikely that his body was missed during debris clearance,” senior police inspector Avinash Dharamadhikari said.
A first information report has been filed against the developer and the demolition contractor under Sections 304-A (causing death by negligence), 337 and 338 (causing hurt by endangering life), and 34 (act done by several people with common intention) of the IPC. Over 32 statements have been recorded in the case so far. “We are investigating chances of murder and of negligence,” investigating officer Sunil Mane said.
On Saturday, the police recorded Crystal Business Park’s developer Mukesh Group’s statement, which said that an insurance policy had been taken for the labourers. A contract was signed between the developer and the contractor to demolish the building in a scientific manner and made the latter responsible for any accident, the statement said. The police said they are examining the contract to fix responsibility of the builder.