When Pooja Singhdev was told her car was destroyed early Monday morning, she thought a tree branch brought down by the torrential rain in Mumbai had caused some dents. She rushed down her apartment complex to see the damage, only to find that her car and the driveway it was on, were in a 60-foot pit.
“The boundary wall had caved in, my car had been washed down, and was now stuck in a muck-filled pit at an adjoining under-construction building,” she said.
And Pooja was not the only resident at the Lloyd’s Estate residential tower in Mumbai to bear the brunt of Mumbai’s unplanned and poorly regulated real estate growth Monday morning. As the city recorded the season’s highest rainfall, 14 cars slid and crashed into a 60-foot pit at 4 am after a portion of this plush Central Mumbai apartment’s compound wall collapsed into an adjoining plot of land being developed by Dosti Realty.
Residents say they have taken Dosti Realty to court over the construction pit, alleging that the pit had weakened the foundation of Lloyd’s Estate. Even as a structural audit of the building is underway, residents also said that their concerns were relayed to the Antop Hill Police the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). Dosti Realty said the heavy rains had caused the landslip.
The torrential rains since Sunday night claimed three lives in Mumbai and its adjoining areas. Water-logging across the city disrupted both road and rail traffic as the city recorded the season’s highest rainfall. On Monday morning, the Santacruz observatory recorded 231.4 mm rainfall in the last 24 hours. This is the first time that it has crossed 200 mm this year.
The highest rainfall – 317.6 mm – was recorded at the automatic weather station at Malad and India Meteorological Department (IMD) data shows that this is the second highest rainfall recorded in June in the last decade, after 283.4 mm on June 19, 2015.
Ajay Singh Rathod, whose Toyota Innova is still stuck in the pit, was among the first to rush to the parking lot. “Around 4.15 am, I woke up to a loud thud. I initially thought it was a thunderstorm but a few minutes later, the guard came rushing and told me my car had caved in. I rushed downstairs, only to see my car get buried deeper and deeper in the muck,” he told The Indian Express.
It was only at daybreak that flat-owners and tenants could make out exactly how many and whose cars had slipped into the pit. By evening, seven mangled cars were pulled out by cranes but 120 families living in one wing at Lloyd’s Estate have now been asked to vacate their homes as a precautionary measure. Officials say their building is located precariously close to the landslip.
The cave-in has Singhdev and other residents thinking of moving out. Harsh Badheka, whose family of three have lived here since 2005, said, “Once there is some decision by the society on whether the building is fit to live in, we plan to take a call on selling this property.”
Residents also said that their society, Wadala Heights Co-operative Housing Society Limited, has been stuck in litigation regarding the construction pit next-door. “In 2016 we moved the Bombay High Court against the builder, Dosti Realty Ltd, for digging too deep. They had permission for a 40-foot pit but they have dug up to 60 feet. This has shaken the foundation of our building,” said Sanjay Sharma, a resident of Lloyd’s Estate who works with the Central Board of Excise and Customs.
Dozens of Customs officials live in two wings of the high-rise. Monthly rentals for two-bedroom apartments in Lloyd’s range between Rs 45,000 and Rs 55,000. Residents also said that visible cracks had started to develop on the ground but the BMC simply ordered a structural audit. “Such a casual attitude by the authorities is unacceptable. Are they waiting for some major incident to happen to heed our complaints?” said Sanjay Sharma.
The Mumbai Police registered a case against the top brass of Dosti Realty Ltd, including owner Deepak Garodia, chairman Kishan Garodia and director Rajesh Shah, along with unnamed officials of the BMC’s Building Proposals department and of the ward office’s Buildings and Factory department.
The case was registered under Sections 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others), 287 (negligent conduct with respect to machinery) and 431 (mischief by injury to public road, bridge or channel) of the Indian Penal Code.
A statement from Dosti Realty blamed the incessant rains. “With respect to the unfortunate event of the caving in of the road between the property of Dosti Realty Ltd and Wadala Heights Co-operative Housing Society Limited, we state that the same has happened on account of heavy rains last night and due to said caving in, some cars parked on the said road has got damaged,” the statement said.
In a press release, Lloyd’s Estate residents said, “The Society had witnessed significant sinking of its stilt area since the past more than a year (owing to the adjoining piling work) and had held multiple conversations with the representatives of Dosti Realty from May 2017, highlighting the seriousness of the situation, including filing of a case against them in the City Civil Court, asking for a stay order on the ongoing construction. The concern was also shared in writing with the Antop Hill Police Station and the F North ward of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation via multiple letters throughout this period.
Residents also said that a cement mixing plant at the Dosti site was also choking a drain nearby, which caused flooding in the society.
Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta said that the matter was sub judice. “This was a very unfortunate incident. The matter is being heard by the Bombay High Court and we cannot comment on the matter. The court has appointed a structural consultant to inspect the site. We will be able to take a stand in this matter only after the court-appointed structural consultant completes his report,” Mehta said.
Police sources said they will summon those named in the FIR after receiving a report from the BMC. “The BMC report will ascertain if there was any negligence on the part of the builder or the corporation officials that caused the wall collapse,” said a senior police official from the Antop Hill police station. The sections imposed are bailable.
Meanwhile Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam who visited the site alleged that the BMC was responsible for the collapse. He said, “The residents have been writing to the BMC. However, not even once did the civic body act against Dosti builders or even inspect the site.”