Death toll up to 52; 61 injured

Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan on Friday admitted in the Assembly that the building which collapsed at Lucky Compound, Shilphata in Thane, was completely illegal and could have been built on tribal or forest land.

In one of the worst tragedies in recent times, 52 persons (till reports last came in) were killed, 17 of them children, and 61 were injured in Mumbra area of Thane after the eight storied building collapsed on Thursday evening.

Mr. Chavan suspended Deepak Chavan, Deputy Municipal Commissioner of the area under Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC), and instituted an inquiry by an official of the rank of Additional Chief Secretary. However, after Opposition members were vociferous about what they perceived as government inaction, he agreed to suspend the senior police inspector of the Shil Daighar police station. He added that if the inquiry showed that the forest or tribal department officials were at fault, they too would be suspended.

Replying to a debate for an adjournment motion on the collapse, Mr. Chavan also admitted that the government was not sure if the multi-storied building was on forest land, as indicated by one survey number, or if it was on tribal land as another survey number showed. The land was illegally used for the building and there was no non-agricultural permission, let alone approvals from the TMC.

He said there was construction work on some pile foundations adjacent to the building, which could have triggered the collapse. The National Disaster Response Force, along with the fire brigade and search and rescue teams arrived there by 9.30 p.m. and rescued people with their specialised equipment. Some were found alive this morning.

Mr. Chavan said the TMC routinely sent them stop work notices but these were not heeded. A notice was even sent on March 26. The two builders, Jamil Qureishi and Salil Sheikh, hadn’t got permission of any kind and they were charged under Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and other sections of the Indian Penal Code.

He referred to the unfortunate practise of building a couple of floors illegally, letting workers stay there and continue the work from inside till it was complete. Then the workers are moved to the next site.

He announced a compensation of Rs. 2 lakh to the families of the deceased and Rs. 50,000 to those seriously injured. He visited the site with the Deputy Chief Minister and officials. Mr. Chavan said two earlier committees appointed by the government had made several recommendations about curbing unauthorised and illegal constructions that were rampant in the Thane region.

Special force to be established

Mr. Chavan referred to a proposal for the setting up a specialised force under the municipal corporations to demolish illegal structures but this was stuck over advance payment to the force before it undertakes the work. The government is planning to amend the Development Control Rules and propose cluster development like in Mumbai for other municipalities in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. In the nine divisions under TMC, there were 1,149 buildings in a dilapidated condition and 57 of them were critical with 86,000 residents. In 2008, a committee had recommended cluster redevelopment of these buildings but no final decision was taken.

Eknath Khadse, Leader of the Opposition, had earlier demanded increase of housing stock so that the poorwould not be victimised by builders and their unauthorised buildings. Jitendra Avhad, MLA, Mumbra, said there were over 200 unauthorised buildings in the Thane Mumbra area and he had written 24 letters to the TMC demanding a stop to these illegal constructions. Builders construct eight storied apartments in 60 days and most of the buildings which collapsed are near a wide gutter in Thane or near the creek in Mumbra.

6 belong to Malda killed

Kolkata Staff Reporter writes:

At least six persons of those killed in the building collapse at Thane in Maharashtra were from the Kaliachak area in the State’s Malda district.

Another two from there are missing.

“Villagers from Kaliachak II block have informed the district administration that six of those who died and two who are missing are residents of the block,” District Magistrate of Malda G. Kiran Kumar told The Hindu over telephone on Friday.

The Resident Commissioner of the State government stationed in New Delhi is sending an officer to Mumbai to identify and bring the bodies back to the State, he said. “We are sending identity proofs of the victims over e-mail,” Mr. Kumar said.