Can Mumbai be saved from itself?

19th July 2019

19th July 2019

Mumbai: A sinking megacity

A decrepit building in Mumbai’s cramped Dongri area fell in a heap due to persistent rains and claimed 13 lives. It made front page headlines, images saddened the viewers and experts came out of hibernation.

This is passé. What’s new?

Soon the debate began who could be held accountable. Both Brihaanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) lobbed the blame-grenade at each other: BMC claimed that the building was a cessed structure and thus governed by MHADA; the latter washed its hands off by saying the building was owned by a private trust and leased to individual tenants.

This is passé too.What’s new?

Devendra Fadnavis, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, too kind of absolved his own government of any guilt. He said: “The residents, as per MHADA rules, appointed a developer for the building’s redevelopment. They have received permission. Whether the developer developed it on time will have to be investigated but first we are focusing on rescue operations.”

Again passé. What’s new?

Time for trustees to deflect the blame. Safdar Karmali, trustee of Dharamsay Khakoo Charitable and Religious Trust, the owner of the collapsed building, clarified: “I became trustee in 2002 and the structure was constructed prior to 2002. Those days, people used their influence to erect structures without permissions. I and the trust are not responsible for the tragedy.”

Passe. What’s new?

The sheer apathy of various departments in Mumbai is now a new norm. The mega city has been an unfortunate centre of annual tragedies of manmade negligence. Every monsoon, when Mumbai’s heavens open, tragedies happen. Same excuses are trotted out, same resolve is made and verbatim is repeated next year when the next edition of tragedy occurs. The choked sewerage pipelines remain unclogged; streets become swimming pools and seeping walls of the dilapidated buildings are a sorry sight.

Tragedies are annual and the faultlines deep, often unextractable. The government agencies are notorious for the lack of work-culture and the matter isn’t helped by deep-seated corruption, crime and land mafia nexus. Thus illegal buildings mushroom in unauthorized “jhoppad-patts.”

Buildings, such as the one recently collapsed, came up in 80s and 90s when dreaded Don Dawood Ibrahim was an unchallenged land grabber and indulged in illegal construction. Many buildings in Mumbai are still “looked after” by Dawood’s aides.   

Said a nearby resident of the collapsed building: “A low floor building is purchased by a land mafia contractor and high-rose building up to 12 storey is constructed in its place. The construction norms are flayed without any respect for law and sold to people, constituting mostly low income earners.” Said Saiyed Musa, another resident in a nearby building: “Mostly tenants are occupying these properties. The buildings got compliance clearance after greasing the palms of the officials. It is only the poor like us who live here to face death and destruction.” 

On April 4, 2013 a total of 74 people were killed in a building collapse in Mumbai. Those killed included 18 children. As many as 60 were reported to have been injured by the collapse. Same year, 61 people were killed and more than 30 injured after a building fell in Mazagaon area. In September 2017, at least 33 people died when a five-story collapsed in South Mumbai's Bhendi Bazaar area. The building had already been categorized a dilapidated one and was due for demolition. Nearly 20 people were injured, including those part of the rescue operations. The building that collapsed was called Husaini Building and was reportedly over a century old. In December 2018,  an under-construction building collapsed in Mumbai's Goregaon area, killing three people and injuring eight. The tragedy took place near the famous Azad Maidan. Most of the people injured and killed were labours working at the construction site.

As per National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), between 2010 and 2014, a total of 13473 cases of structural collapse was reported, resulting in deaths of 13,178 people. The report says that Mumbai has the highest incidents of residential building collapse which accounted for 50% deaths in mega cities. 

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