Fifteen persons, including four children and two women, were killed and three seriously injured when a section of a compound wall of an apartment complex crashed on adjacent labourers’ makeshift hutments in Bada Talab Masjid locality in Pune’s Kondhwa area between 1:30 a.m. and 2 a.m. on Saturday.
The labourers were on construction work right next to the apartment. All the deceased hailed from Katihar district of Bihar.
Later in the day, the Kondhwa police filed an FIR under Sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against 15 persons, including the developers, the contractor and the site engineer of the site under construction as well as the developers of the Alcon Stylus housing project, whose retaining wall collapsed.
Fire department personnel, along with a National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) team, reached the spot and managed to rescue three people trapped under debris.
Five fire brigade vehicles, two JCB earth movers and other mini-vehicles were pressed into service in the rescue operation amid a downpour.
The tragedy comes in the backdrop of the city reeling under the onslaught of relentless showers in the past 48 hours. India Meteorological Department authorities said the city received more than 73 mm rainfall between June 27 and June 28. In fact, the rainfall in the past 24 hours is reportedly the second highest bout of showers to hit the city in June since 2010.
"It appears that the incessant downpour may have loosened the soil around the retaining wall of the Alcon Stylus society. Deep excavation work was being carried out at the site adjacent to it, which only aggravated matters," said Pune Municipal Commissioner Saurabh Rao.
A senior police official said the compound wall, was in poor state needing repairs.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced a compensation of Rs. 5 lakh each for the kin of the deceased and directed Pune District Collector Naval Kishore Ram to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the tragedy.
“Extremely saddened to know about loss of lives in the Kondhwa wall collapse incident in Pune. My deepest condolences to the families and praying for speedy recovery of the injured. Directed Pune Collector to conduct an in-depth inquiry,” tweeted Mr. Fadnavis.
The names of the deceased released by authorities are: Alok Sharma (28), Mohan Sharma (24), Ajay Sharma (19), Ravi Sharma (19), Laxmikant Sahani (33), Sunil Singh (35), Bhima Das (38), Avdhesh Singh and Deepranjan Sharma (age unknown), four minors - Ovi Das (aged two years) and Sonali Das (aged six years) Ajitkumar Sharma (aged seven) and Rekhalkumar Sharma (aged five) and two women - Sangeeta Devi (26) and Niva Devi (30).
The bodies were sent for post-mortem to the Sassoon General Hospital, where the injured were undergoing treatment.
“The bodies will be sent to their families by flights to Patna. They would then be taken for their last rites to their villages,” said Mr. Naval Kishore Ram.
Probe panel formed
Senior BJP leader and Pune’s newly-appointed Guardian Minister Chandrakant Patil said a three-member committee, comprising an Additional District Collector, a police officer and a Pune civic body official, would be set up to probe the incident and submit a report within the next 24 hours against errant builders and contractors who flouted construction norms.
“The committee has been tasked to look into who were the developers, architects, structural engineers involved at the said construction site as well as the one next to it [on which the labourers were working]. It will also investigate how these labourers were brought to the site and whether all the necessary employment procedures were completed,” he said.
Some cars and two-wheelers parked in the apartment complex, too, went down as the wall crashed onto the labourers’ tin houses.
“I have instructed the District Collector to immediately issue a stop-work order on this construction,” said Pune Mayor Mukta Tilak.
Supriya Sule hits out at BJP
Meanwhile, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MP from Baramati Supriya Sule hit out at the ruling BJP government, remarking that the incident was a blight on the BJP’s idea of Pune as a ‘Smart City’.
“There is no follow-up to such incidents. We only move from one ‘breaking news’ event of this kind to the next. It only shows the gross insensitivity towards the labourers who hail from margins of society. Is this the ‘Smart City’ of the BJP?” Ms. Sule said. She demanded that the government come up with a concrete policy to prevent illicit constructions and tragedies arising out of them in the future.
String of accidents
The incident has brought into sharp focus yet again the pressing issue of labourers’ safety measures in construction sites.
Pune, with its indiscriminate urbanization, has witnessed a string of accidents in recent years, where the victim has generally been the luckless labourer.
In October 2017, three labourers were killed and one seriously injured after the slab of a building under construction collapsed in Dattawadi area.
In July 2016, nine labourers were killed on the spot when a slab of a building under construction collapsed in Balewadi area.
On December 2012, as many as 13 labourers were killed when a slab of a building under construction caved in at Wagholi, 20 km from the city.
Prior to that, in September that year, six persons were killed on the spot and several injured after a four-storey residential building caved in at Sahakar Nagar area.