Mumbai building collapse: Result of flaw in law or BMC’s ineptitude?

According to reports, the police have registered an FIR on the owner of the building, Rafiq Siddiqui and the contractor Shaikh on the charges of culpable homicide.

Mumbai building collapse: Result of flaw in law or BMC’s ineptitude?
Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray visits people injured after a single-storey house collapsed on another structure in Malwani area, at Shatabdi Hospital in Mumbai, Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Photo credit: PTI)

The residential building collapse in Mumbai on the night of Wednesday left at least 12 people dead, including eight children. The two floors of the three-storied building collapsed on an adjoining single-stories house the city’s Malwani are in Malad (West). The city had witnessed incessant southwest monsoon rains throughout the day.

The building was constructed illegally, the police said and was damaged during cyclone Tauktae. The police have arrested the contractor of the building, Ramzan Nabi Shaikh. The police have registered an FIR on the owner of the building, Rafiq Siddiqui and contractor Shaikh on the charges of culpable homicide, news agency PTI reported.

On Friday, the Bombay High Court took suo motu cognizance of the incident. The high court has ordered a judicial enquiry into the incident and wants a preliminary report by June 24.

While the incident was indeed harrowing, it poses a larger question: What has the government and the city corporation — Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) done to prevent such an incident as it was not the first time in Mumbai — or in Maharashtra’s history — that dilapidated buildings had collapsed?

The story in numbers

On March 31, the BMC identified 485 buildings in the city, which are placed in the C-1 category ahead of this year’s monsoon. The buildings placed in the C-1 category are considered ‘dangerous’ and are in need of immediate demolition.

Details of C-1 buildings (31.3.2021): 

Buildings in C-1 Category  Total number
Dilapidated and dangerous buildings 485
C-1 buildings demolished 148
C-1 category buildings vacated 107
C-1 category buildings in need of further action 230
C-1 category buildings having stay order 73
C-1 category buildings referred to the TAC 18
C-1 category buildings not vacated 112
C-1 category buildings vacated 27

The BMC has demolished nearly 148 buildings that are in the ‘dangerous’ category so far. Nearly 112 buildings are still not vacated by residents, but the city corporation has withdrawn the supply of electricity and water to these buildings.

Out of the total 485 dilapidated buildings, 34 belong to the corporation, 27 belong to the government and the rest 424 buildings are owned privately. Among the 144 demolished buildings the majority — i.e. 144 — belonged to private owners, whereas four belonged to the corporation.

According to Mumbai-based senior architect Chandrashekar, the houses 485 houses identified by the BMC are “regular buildings”.

“The present incident in Malad is in respect to the slum. These [illegal] structures are going to collapse. What can anyone do about it? When the corporation wants to demolish, then the local councillors and people gather and they protest. I have seen this myself a number of times and I have worked for slum-dwellers for a number of years,” Chandrashekar told TV9 News.

“The 485 buildings listed by the BMC are regular buildings. They are old and dilapidated. Most of them are in the city. These are looked after by Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA). If they collapse then one can hold MHADA responsible.”

As per a 2019 report by the data website IndiaSpend, the Mumbai Fire Brigade had received over 99,000 emergency calls in the past six years till 2018-19. Out of these, 1,830 were made for emergency assistance on house collapse in the city.

A flaw in the law? 

According to Mumbai-based senior architect and town planner Rajiv Mishra, such incidents result from a flaw in the town planning plans.

“The town planning law of the city says that if there is a land encroached by a slum and if the government wants to utilise the land for development, they have to first give free housing to the people occupying it, which means that if one illegally occupies a land, over a period of time they become eligible for free housing. This is the wrong town planning policy,” Mishra told TV9 News.

“The people, who feel that they qualify for a free house, do not build anything permanent that will save their lives. They deliberately build something that is temporary. The Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) policy, under the town planning law, prescribes free housing for slum dwellers. Then why will the slum dwellers build strong houses?”

Mishra added that the policy will make the encroacher eligible for a free house. “This is the biggest town planning flaw. There is a need to reform the policy. People are misusing the policy, which was implemented for the benefit of the slum dwellers,” he said.

The SRA scheme will provide slum-dwellers accommodation or houses free of cost. However, they won’t be allowed to sell or rent the house for a lock-in period of 10 years. The rule has been abused and continues to be abused by beneficiaries of the accommodations.

Last year, Mumbai Mirror, quoting the data by the city’s housing department, said that nearly 13,000 owners of houses provided by the SRA had flouted the minimum lock-in period and resold the allotted property between 2011 and 2017.

Earlier in February 2021, the Times of India reported, quoting a survey by the SRA, that one in every eight slum dwellers, who were the beneficiaries of these houses, had sold and moved out. The authority had surveyed 86,429 tenements, out of which 10,983 were occupied by people who were unauthorised by the SRA.

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