A PILE of rubble, the remnants of the collapsed Siddhi Sai building in Ghatkopar, dumped at the Ram Leela Maidan of Ghatkopar’s Maneklal Estate, is being combed for the digital video recorder that stored CCTV footage from the building’s cameras. The four-storey building collapsed on July 25, killing 17 people. Now guarded throughout the day by two police personnel working in shifts, the rubble, where some of the former residents’ belongings still remain, could provide clues to the police as well as to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s three-member committee studying the causes for the collapse.
Residents said around three years ago, the main accused in the case Sunil Shitap had installed a couple of CCTV cameras in his nursing home on the ground floor as well as 3-4 other cameras at the corners of the building. While the BMC committee is in the process of testing the strength of the debris material, the police are trying to locate the digital video recorder in the hope of recovering some CCTV footage.
“He installed them in 2015 when he was carrying out some repair work and he would always keep an eye on the camera. When we had gone to speak to him in the office, on several occasions, we have seen the footage playing on his computer screen and he would also play it on his mobile phone when he was not sitting at his desk. All the proof of his illegal construction work which caused the building to collapse will surely be on it,” claimed Birendra Singh, one of the residents.
Another resident, not wishing to be named, said that members of the BMC team have been visiting the site every day for the past week and they have been helping them with any information that can help. “We have given the BMC the structural report which was filed in 2015 and we also told them about the repairs carried out subsequently. We have suggested that they use the CCTV footage from the neighbouring building Shanti Niketan. One of the residents had sold his flat on the third floor to someone who had procured a bank loan which is granted only if a building is structurally stable. We have submitted those papers as well,” said the resident.
While Deputy Commissioner of Police Sachin Patil said that the investigation is still underway and that they are considering all possible leads, another senior police officer said they are trying to locate the hard disk in Shitap’s computer as well as the DVR. “We have asked BMC officials to look for the DVR since there is too much debris to cover but we are trying to get whatever we can get our hands on. We are hoping that the hard disk won’t be damaged from the impact of the collapse in which case it will be difficult to recover magnetic data,” said the police officer.
Meanwhile, the residents awaiting temporary accommodation as promised by housing minister Prakash Mehta, are also trying to get their hands on their valuables recovered from the debris. “Many of the families have gone to the police station and identified their jewellery. But the police are not willing to return the jewellery and keep telling them that set procedures have to be followed. They are returning small amounts of cash in purses but not the jewellery or the larger sums of money,” said Singh. He added that while his purse which contained Rs 5500 is yet to be found, the police handed over his wife’s handbag which contained Rs 1,200.
“I had about Rs 60,000 cash in my cupboard. But the police have kept all the cash together. It could be anyone’s money. How can I then claim it as mine?” he said. Neeraj Gandhi (45) who managed to escape the building with his 70-year-old mother Ameeta minutes before the building collapsed said, “We are in a crisis. For how long will people help us? We need money and important documents too. The police are not letting us claim our belongings yet. They have to understand, we are not going to run away after claiming it.”
“I and my son have been visiting the police and have requested them to let us claim our belongings. We have lost our cash, jewellery and important documents including insurance papers,” said Rita Doshi, another survivor.
Doshi added, “The police want all the residents of Siddhi Sai to remain present when claiming the belongings. Those who have lost their family members have left for their native places to complete their last rites, while a few of them are still hospitalised. Some of them have shifted to far off places to the homes of relatives.” Vikhroli Parksite police have assigned two officers to ensure the safety of jewellery, cash, books, utensils and other belongings found in the rubble.
“We have made a list of the belongings. We have asked all families to be present for claiming belongings to avoid any confusion,” said an official from the Vikhroli Parksite police station.