Built to Kill

Cor­rupt of­fi­cials and a con­struc­tion mafia con­tinue to build multi- storeyed death traps in Mum­bai

India Today - - INSIDE - By M. G. Arun Fol­low the writer on Twit­ter @ MGArun1

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.



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