Built to Kill
Corrupt officials and a construction mafia continue to build multi- storeyed death traps in Mumbai
Corrupt officials and a construction mafia continue to build multi- storeyed death traps in Mumbai.
Walpakhadi in the Dongri area houses six residential quarters for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s ( BMC) Class IV employees, with the oldest of them, Building No. 3, more than a century old. The dark and dingy two- storey building, once used as a jail by the British, is home to 88 families, many having lived there for generations, in spaces measuring just 10ftX12ft. “I have lived here for over 80 years,” says 83- year- old Palubhai Solanki, a bedridden widow, and a former sweeper. Three years ago,
BMC residents were served a notice by BMC to vacate the building as it fell under the ‘ dilapidated’ category. They are unwilling to do so, unless they are guaranteed a home when the building is redeveloped. Another resident, Valjibhai Boricha, 44, lost 15 members of his Meghwal community, traditionally labourers and weavers, when a building in nearby Dockyard Road collapsed on September 27, killing 61 people. Ironically, the building housed staffers of BMC, which is mandated to monitor safety of buildings.
The Dockyard Road incident, where a 33- year- old building crumbled, is only the latest in a string of incidents of building collapses in Mumbai. In the last three years, over 170 people have died in at least 11 incidents of building collapses, primarily because of three reasons. First is the issue of illegal construction, where buildings that sprout in a matter of months collapse like a house of cards. Second, the administration is unable to remove tenants safely from dilapidated buildings to an alternative accommodation, so that the buildings can be repaired or rebuilt. Third comes poor quality of materials used and widespread alterations.
According to a survey conducted by the Shiv Sena- led BMC, there are
959 dilapidated buildings in Mumbai’s 24 wards. “Every year, before the monsoon, BMC does a farce of a survey, where names of the previous year are cut and pasted, without any proper audit,” alleges BMC Standing Committee member and Samajwadi Party leader Rais Shaikh. In June, the committee asked the administration to undertake a fresh audit of the structures declared dangerous and dilapidated. However, the audits seem to have done nothing to help prevent such mishaps from recurring.
Most of the dilapidated buildings in Mumbai fall under the E ward of BMC, which has several low- cost homes built for workers of the erstwhile textile mills. Such buildings are grouped in four categories. The completely dilapidated ones fall in the C1 category, while C2 comprises those that are partially dilapidated. C2A and C2B category buildings are those that need urgent repair. “An audit report on the Dockyard Road building in 2012 which said it needed urgent repairs. Rs 1.25 crore was even sanctioned. However, it continued to be classified as C2B,” says Shaikh, implying that the money has not been used to carry out the repairs, or else the building would have been removed from the list.
“The reason for the large number of illegal constructions is rampant corruption in the ranks of BMC where rogue builders pay bribes at every stage of setting up a building,” says Govind Ragho Khairnar, a former BMC deputy commissioner. “Executive engineers work hand- in- glove with some councillors to share the booty,” he adds. Moreover, contractors are said to be wary of taking up BMC work since they will also have to pay their way through the bureaucracy.
Tenants cannot be forced out since most are old and have been living in those buildings for several decades, or cannot afford to buy a new home. Many fear that once they leave their homes, they will not get them back. In several of these old buildings, governed by the Maharashtra Housing & Area Development Authority ( MHADA) Act of 1976, there is a provision where tenants of pre- 1940 properties can become owners by paying 100 months’ rent to the landlords and redevelop the properties themselves. This move was stayed by the Supreme Court in 1997 after landlords challenged it.
Top builders say the shortage of affordable homes in Mumbai is a breeding ground for many woes. “Every sector that has been liberalised by the government has improved, be it telecom, aviation, or automotive. Only realty is left licensed and taxed more and more,” says Niranjan Hiranandani,
MD, Hiranandani Constructions. This, along with high land prices, has choked supply of houses in Mumbai, he adds. “Fifty per cent of homes in Mumbai are shanties. For that to change, liberalise realty and create more homes, townships, transport and infrastructure.”
Three BMC officials were arrested on October 1 in connection with the Dockyard Road building collapse. But councillors such as Shaikh want a judicial inquiry, along with a longterm solution. “We need a separate commissionerate for such buildings. Getting bureaucrats who aren’t interested in activities of BMC for three- year periods has taken us nowhere,” he says. The political class appears rattled by the harsh reality. Sadly, it took them too long, and cost too many lives.
RESCUE WORKERS SEARCH FOR SURVIVORS AFTER A BUILDING COLLAPSED AT DOCKYARD ROAD IN MUMBAI