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Trapped in houses of cards with nowhere else to go

Rashmi Rajput
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BMC just pastes a notice, saying the building is unsafe; it does little to help residents get alternative accommodation

The BMC has ignored Hanumant Gujjar’s leaky ceiling problem, persisting for the last five years.— Photo: By Special Arrangement
The BMC has ignored Hanumant Gujjar’s leaky ceiling problem, persisting for the last five years.— Photo: By Special Arrangement

For six generations the Rabhadias have lived in Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) building No. 3 at Dongri in South Mumbai — one of the 950 dilapidated buildings in the city. Last Friday, the 90-year-old patriarch, Bhanji, woke up to the news that three of his family members, who lived in the building at Dockyard that fell like a pack of cards, had died underneath the rubble. For a second Bhanji thought of moving out from his 10x10 ‘home’ to a safer place but with no money in hand, helplessness has taken precedence over safety.

“Come May and the BMC pastes a notice declaring our building unsafe. When we inquire about whether they can shift us, they say they will get back but fail to do so. They ask us to vacate our homes but give us no alternative accommodation,” Mr. Bhanji told The Hindu .

There are six BMC buildings in Dongri which house families of 376 conservancy workers. While two are over 100 years old, the remaining four came up in the early 1980s when the State was rocked by the Antulay cement scandal. “We are sure that the cement used in these buildings are of inferior quality. The slab of a parapet wall of one of the buildings fell in May. The BMC, in the name of repairs has put a slab but nothing concrete has been done and we continue to live in such uncertain conditions,” said P.S. Rathod, who resides with his family in building no. 4.

The ceilings of the common toilets of these buildings have collapsed many times. The BMC has erected a few iron rods to ensure that the slab holding the ceilings doesn’t collapse. Next to the collapse site stands another BMC building where the residents complain of poor maintenance by the civic authority. Hanumant Gujjar, who resides on the third floor of the four-storey building, has been facing a leakage problem for the past five years but the BMC hasn’t done anything to fix it. The Friday morning incident has shaken him but he too claimed he was helpless.

“I was asleep when I heard a loud noise. When I peeped out of my window I saw that the building had collapsed. Since then I have not been able to sleep well,” said Mr. Gujjar. “I work with the marketing department and I am okay if they move me to some other building, but when we appeal to them they don’t pay attention,” he added. His building also houses two BMC schools.

In 2012, BMC’s technical committee had suggested repair of the Dockyard building in which 62 people have died so far. But the civic body ignored its own committee’s warning. Except for the E-ward, where there has been a considerable rise in the number of dilapidated buildings from 33 in 2012 to 90 in 2013, the number of dilapidated buildings in the city has more or less hovered around the 900 mark. In the last two years, of the city’s 24 municipal wards, the number of dilapidated buildings in 12 wards has not changed.

No templates available

Experts said that with no templates available on how to conduct them, the surveys of dilapidated buildings were done in a haphazard manner. An engineer transferred from the water department also conducted these surveys without much training and therefore he might not factor many conditions while preparing the report, a source said. Many a times the survey looked like a ‘copy-paste’ job.

The current survey overlooks a host of conditions: the possible weakening of the structure due to heavy construction in the neighbourhood and that buildings constructed on reclaimed land can have a weak foundation. Buildings constructed between 1984 and 1986 may have suffered due to the cement crisis, added a source. “There is no proper framework under which the surveys are conducted. They are a farce,” Rais Shaikh, member of the standing committee told the press.

Dedicated panel planned

The BMC is now in the process of forming a dedicated committee that would look into such dilapidated buildings and lay down guidelines that could be followed while conducting audits and suggest what kind and scale of repair was needed.


  • Number of dilapidated buildings in the city hovers near 900

  • No templates available on how to conduct surveys: experts



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