Second incident in a fortnight; land being marshy may be factor
Less than a fortnight after a building collapsed in Mahim, Mumbai, killing ten residents, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) has seen yet another building crumble. At 2.20 am on Friday, the Shakuntala building in Mumbra collapsed, taking the nine families who resided there down with it, say civic officials of the Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC). Ten people were killed in the incident, and civic officials say the toll is unlikely to rise as none of the 10 injured are in critical condition.
The building was in the main city area of Mumbra, in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, close to Shilphata – the site of one of the most shocking building collapses in April which claimed 74 lives.
Rescue operations were conducted by local residents, the TMC fire brigade and three teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) comprising 115 personnel. “Ten victims were taken out from the debris; six of these were women and four men while another 14 were rescued alive. None of the rescued has suffered serious injuries,” says Sachidanand Gawde, deputy commandant of the NDRF.
Confusion over listing as 'dangerous'
The tragedy could have been averted if the nine families staying inside the dangerous building had been provided with alternative accommodation. However, that had apparently not been done. The Corporation has denied this is the case.
“The building was constructed in the year 1979, even before the formation of the TMC in 1982. So it was very much an old structure but not in the corporation’s list of dangerous buildings,” claims a spokesperson for the TMC. However, the corporation’s disaster management department said otherwise. “The building was very much listed as dangerous,” an official says, requesting anonymity. The corporation lists buildings under ‘dangerous’ and ‘extremely dangerous’ categories and this building belonged to the former, he adds.
More vulnerable to crumble
Curiously, there are more buildings vulnerable to collapse in other parts of urban Thane. Official data shows Mumbra area has a substantial number of illegal buildings, but does not have a large number categorised as ‘dangerous’ or ‘extremely dangerous’. It is in fact placed after Wagle ward committee and Naupada – the other two politically sensitive areas of urban Thane, believed to house a larger number of illegal buildings than Mumbra – in the tally of dangerous buildings.
The vulnerable buildings numbering 1,107 have 88,286 people living in them. As identified by the Thane municipal corporation, Wagle ward committee has the highest number of vulnerable structures at 504 followed by Naupada ward committee at 165. Mumbra’s tally is 140. Interestingly though, Mumbra ranks second in the number of people who are at risk as a result of their continued stay in vulnerable buildings. There are 46,883 individuals who risk their lives in Wagle ward committee as compared to 23,070 in Mumbra and 5,634 in Naupada.
Geology is a factor
Activists working on the issue in Thane say Mumbra witnesses more repeated building collapses compared to other areas with a larger number of vulnerable and illegal buildings, because of the nature of its land.
"If you look at the regions housing illegal and vulnerable buildings geologically, you will find that Mumbra is essentially marshy land because of the presence of a creek. Wagle estate, in comparison, has much stronger land and thus its holding capacity of buildings is much more,” says Nitin Deshpande, RTI activist and member of the Dharmarajya Party. “The reason there are so many such buildings there is because that area comes under the MIDC (Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation) zone where development is supposed to be regulated strongly. However, experience has shown that curbs on development ensure that illegal buildings come up due to corruption. So the builders cut corners and carry out substandard constructions," he explains.
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