Indifference to Human Life
Human greed knows no bounds -amply evident in the case of building collapse in Ghatkopar, Mumbai on July 25, 2017. Disregard for law, greed to grab public land and wilful negligence of government officials,took away lives of several innocent people.
Siddhi Sai Apartments, a four storey building collapsed at Ghatkopar’sDamodar Park in Mumbai, killing 17 people and injuring more than a dozen people living in the building. Shiv Sena member Sunil Shitap is held responsible for the collapse. He carried out unauthorised work without permissionand tried to alter the load bearing structure with no regards to the safety of the building.
According to the structural consultant appointed by the BMC for inquiry, the walls on the ground floor were “indiscriminately removed”. The structure would have survived longer, had it not been tampered arbitrarily. The overexposed RCC columns at the ground level supporting the entire building triggered the collapse.
BJP MLA of Ghatkopar, Ram Kadam, speaking to Realty Plus Correspondent revealed that Sunil Shitap, a notorious person was about to be kicked out of Shiv Sena party because of his previous bad records. Denying the involvement of Shiv Sena, he said, “Sunil was never on good terms with other party members and because of his unruly behaviour, he always created a bad name for the party. He never took any building permissions or NOC for the renovation work. Indeed, there are loopholes in the system and policies that people like him take advantage.”
BMC officials said they did not receive any complaints from the residents of Siddhi Sai regarding the repairs.The residents of the building state that Sunil Shitap used to threaten them with his political connections.
The Crux of the Matter
The report submitted by BMC committee led by additional municipal commissioner Vijay Singhal, to Ajoy Mehta, Municipal Commissioner of Mumbai stated that Shitap owned three flats on the ground floor and one on the first. He allegedly wanted to convert a maternity home run by Dr Padma V Khade into a restaurant. The report says work started even before Khade could vacate the premises.
The committee in its report has also pointed towards administrative lapses in the matter.The then medical officer of health (MOH) had issued a certification to the maternity home without proper documents and the current MOH and sanitary inspector of the N ward Ghatkopar had cancelled the maternity home’s registration, acting on Shitap’s wife Swati’s request. Swati contested the 2017 BMC elections as a Sena candidate.
“Sunil Shitap ran a nursing home without securing the necessary permissions, did not pay building maintenance charges and residents used to face water supply issues because Shitap used water in his clinic on a commercial basis,” revealed one of the aggrieved building resident.
Ram Kadam said, “As per the residents, few minutes before the collapse,when the building started shaking labourers working on the ground floor escaped, without raising an alert. Most of the residents were at home and could not make it out of the building in time.”Ranjit Agale, the interior designer of questionable qualification, appointed by Sunil Shitap extensively damaged the load-bearing columns of the building and permitted illegal construction. However, Ram Kadam denied the role of architect or interior designer (who is in hiding) and held Sunil Shitap solely responsible for the whole mishap.
A Disturbing Conclusion
This whole scenario leads to a conclusion that people with political connections consider themselves above law. The civic authorities more often than not are hand in glove with such persons either due to political pressure, money or due to lack of adequate power and resources.
Even governmental gaps cannot be ignored as there are no policies for the registration of interior designers, renovators or structural repair contractors. Also there is no mandatory rule to obtain a no-objection certificate from the society to carry out repairs.
The accused were booked under sections 304 part II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others) and 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) of the Indian Penal Code.
Shiv Sena leader Sunil Sitap and supervisor Anil Mandal were remanded in police custody for eight days, which has ended. Shiv Sena has distanced itself from Sunil Shitap.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) committee has made 13 recommendations to prevent such a disaster from recurring.One of the committee’s most significant recommendations is that tampering with a structure be made a cognisable offence by amending the Indian Penal Code and the Maharashtra Regional Town Planning Act.
It also suggested an inquiry into the actions of the ward’s executive engineer and the staff of the building and factory department, N ward, for not taking action against the unauthorised work.
Civic chief Ajoy Mehta has ordered that the recommendations be implemented within six months.
One of the residents whose wife and three-month-old daughter died in the building collapse alleged thatpolitical authorities and BMC supported Shitap. He held BMC’s N-Ward office and Building Proposals Department equally responsible for killing his family.
Post the collapse, there were speculations about the allotment of houses to the affected families. Ram Kadam, informed that the residents of Siddhi Sai building will be provided temporary homes in Kanjurmarg, Bhandup and Ghatkopar. “Authorities were supposed to give shelter in a slum rehabilitation building in Ghatkopar, but it was already occupied by civic authorities. The relief amount of three lakh rupees was disbursed among the affected residents in record three days’ time and rest of the amount, i.e. two lakh rupees too will be given very soon,’ he said.
Ghatkopar building collapse is neither the first nor will be the last such specimen of human greed or indifference to human life. The colonial mind-set of politicians of considering themselves above law and of the public of allowing themselves to think of politicians as superior and be bullied by them will continue to make sure such mishaps continue.
Stricter laws, stringent building regulations, registration frameworks for professionals and swift, harsh punishments irrespective of the stature of the accused are the need of the hour. Loss of human life is irreplaceable.