We saw this building rising up to eighth floor in 34 days, says a labourer

“In a matter of five minutes, the entire building came down with a loud bang. I was on the sixth floor and was trapped under the cement beam. I somehow took out my mobile and informed my friends of the collapse. They came and saved me,” said Munna Rajput, 30, a masonry worker. But his friend and colleague Santosh Yadav died. “I heard his cries but I could not do anything,” Rajput said with tearful eyes.

In one of the worst tragedies in recent times, 52 (till reports came in last) people were killed and 61 injured in the Mumbra area of Thane after an eight-storey building in Lucky Compound, Shil Phata, collapsed on Thursday evening. The unnamed building was built in a record 34 days and it came up without any sort of permissions. Of the injured, 17 have been discharged from hospital.

On Friday, the Lucky Compound area turned into a graveyard of innocent residents, a majority of daily wage labourers.

The entire tower crumbled when 15-20 labourers were still giving finishing touches to the eighth floor. The builders had made all arrangements to provide water and electricity to the residents without any legal paperwork. Slum dwellers and labourers had been asked to move into the tower and occupy flats.

Each floor had four flats. “If a structure remains vacant, then there is a possibility of civic officers taking action. But if it is occupied, then it becomes difficult for the civic body to raze that structure. Corruption kills the poor, literally it kills,” said Ghulam Maqbool Shaikh, a local reporter.

According to Rajput, the builder had even installed a lift in the tower and it was to start operating week.

The plot, on which the building was constructed, was the site from where a nullah carrying waste water used to flow. The builder, without any permission, reclaimed the land and changed the direction of the nullah, and this rendered the base of the building extremely weak.

“We have seen this building rising up to the eighth floor in 34 days. I am a labourer and have worked on many projects, but have never seen such a rapid construction,” said Saddam Hussain, 31, one of the workers who had worked on the third and fourth floors.

Each of the families, which were asked to move in, was charged Rs. 2000-Rs. 2500 per flat. “My entire family of 14 had moved on the fourth floor. Yesterday [Thursday], I was out on work when I received a phone call from a friend. I rushed here after hearing the news. I found my sister alive. But I have no idea of my own family, my wife. Every time they bring out a body, I just pray to Allah. I don’t want to see their bodies,” said Irfan Siddiqui, cursing his decision to move into the building with his family. His pregnant wife, mother and the families of his sisters, in all 10 members, were later found dead. He is now left with his two daughters, one two-year old and the other 11 months. “I was fooled by the builder. We all fell into his trap,” he said.

A coaching class for 10 to 15 children was under way on the first floor of this tower when the collapse occurred. Few students have been traced.

Chandrapat Gautam, a resident, was ecstatic when he found that his eight-year-old son Abhinandan survived the tragedy. But soon after, this mechanic from the nearby slum learned of the death of his seven-year-old daughter Arati. Both children had gone for tuition classes on the first floor. “They went there every day, along with three other kids from our slum. Yesterday, those three did not go, but my kids never missed tuition,” said Gautam, showing his daughter’s photograph on his mobile phone.

K.P. Raghuvanshi, Commissioner of Thane Police, on Friday told reporters that a case of culpable homicide was registered against the wanted builders, Jamil Kureishi and Salim Sheikh.

No action despite complaint

It was revealed that locals had already registered a complaint against the building with the Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC). Mangal Patil, a social activist from the area, said he had informed the TMC of the construction but no action was taken. “This land was acquired illegally by the builders, but nobody wants to take any action since they are being given their share regularly,” he said, showing the documents which he had sent to TMC and even to the ministers concerned in the State Cabinet.

While rescue operations began almost three hours after the incident, a team from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) was sent to Mumbra from Pune on Thursday night. Alok Awasthi, Commandant of the NDRF battalion, told The Hindu that young kids might still be trapped under the debris. “We have begun our rescue operation in full force. We have sent the sensors beneath the debris to find out [if anyone was lying there]. We will continue our work till the last person is removed from this debris,” he said. The first three floors of the tower have completely caved in, making it difficult for the rescuers to continue the operations.