Behind Ghatkopar building collapse lies Maharashtra govt's culture of illegality and cronyism

It is being said that the Ghatkopar building, Siddhi Sai Apartment, "collapsed", but when you examine the more minute aspects of what transpired, it becomes apparent that the building was, in a sense, willfully pulled down, given that no civil works contractor tasked with renovating a building would fail to acknowledge the inherent danger in shifting those pillars that bear the weight of that structure.

By all accounts, pillars in Siddhi Sai Apartment were "moved", and this assumes significance in a city where old, dilapidated structures under the BMC's cessed houses list are propped up by wooden beams, and residents are often asked to vacate these buildings by a municipal corporation that is unable to ensure their safety. Given this, it isn't unreasonable to assume that contractors and owners are aware of the perils of making alterations to the foundation of such rickety structures.

It is hard to believe that the man who owned the ground floor, later detained by the Maharashtra police, was converting three apartments into one single space without the civic body’s knowledge. How did they allow anyone to run a nursing home in the ground floor of the building, or as some reports suggested, a beer bar, without proper structural changes?

The moment someone seeks the nod from civic body for a change of use — especially from apartments to commercial — the authorities should have sensed the need to ensure that all norms were duly followed. And the Maharashtra civic body has past examples to take cue from — Dockyard Road building collapse in 2013 which killed 61, was because of the negligence during repair work was getting done. In May 2016, building collapse in Grant Road killed six when it crashed during repairs.

 Behind Ghatkopar building collapse lies Maharashtra govts culture of illegality and cronyism

Rescue operations were going on Tuesday at the collapse site in Ghatkopar. PTI

The saddest part is that the residents of Siddhi Sai were afraid of a situation just like this one when the renovation work was underway but they couldn't lodge a complaint because the person detained, Sunil Shitap, was "powerful" and "politically connected". It speaks volumes about our civic governance and political heft which allows tricks to be played and leaves the citizens helpless.

The National Crime Records Bureau's data till 2013 shows: "Under unnatural accidents, Mumbai city has the highest number of incidents of ‘collapse of structure (118 cases) which accounted for 50 percent and 55.5 percent injured and deaths respectively among 53 mega cities."

The term 'illegal' building could be anything, ranging from  buildings which need retrofitting or rebuilding and buildings which collapse during or due to alterations. Illegal changes, which jeopardise the buildings, however are entirely different.

The building in Ghatkopar evidently falls in that category and the other residents had absolutely no nerve to take down the culprit because of the political clout he enjoys. His wife had contested for civic elections on Shiv Sena ticket but the party said he was “not connected” to it. Sena, it so happens, runs the civic body.

Dilapidated structures, which could crumble like a house of cards, is a serious and a life-threatening issue. The fact that people, despite all the above-mentioned reasons, continue to live in these buildings, point to unresolved concerns. Firstly, mistrust of builders hampers rebuilding prospects; secondly, abysmal conditions of transit accommodation.

Amid all this, the culture of illegality has been given a lease of life by the Maharashtra government, which allows regularisation of  lakhs of illegal structures across the state without even trying to know how the state or its appurtenances (like the civic bodies) are responsible for them.

No one can say that residents of these structures should be booted out, but the original issue is ignored. Who are these people enabling these "faulty" structures to come up in the first place? And when they do, the real estate-hungry and the well-connected will throw all concerns to the winds, like they did in Ghatkopar.

Updated Date: Jul 26, 2017 16:31:43 IST