'I don't want any father to pull out pieces of his son'

Fighting back his tears, Advocate Rizwan Merchant collected himself and launched an attack on the BMC at a press conference yesterday, accusing them of neglecting complaints from residents regarding the weakening of Aftab Manzil, the building in Mahim that collapsed last week, claiming his mother, son and wife.

At the meeting, Merchant presented a compilation of various letters of complaint he had sent to different authorities regarding the building. Merchant has also registered criminal complaints against the heirs of the building’s first landlord, along with the managing director of Fort Point Auto the company that occupies a showroom in the building and his licensor.

Rizwan Merchant was seen struggling with his emotions several times during the press conference yesterday, but controlled himself to provide evidence of irregularities in the building that he claimed had been ignored by the BMC. Pics/Bipin Kokate

‘Entitled to justice’
Speaking to the media, Merchant said, “I know I cannot get my family back. But I don’t want any father to have to pull out the pieces of his son. I don’t want a son to have to pull out the remains of his mother. One more Aftab Manzil will fall. The fire department will come, an FIR will be registered, but nothing will happen. I’m on a mission to change that. I demand an explanation from the BMC. I am entitled to demand justice.”

Several other residents of the collapsed building accompanied Merchant, and it was revealed that many complaints had been made against illegal alterations in the building as far back as 2008. Rizwan claimed that he had managed to salvage documents from the rubble that proved the BMC’s negligence. Though three copies had been made, the originals were stored at Aftab Manzil. “It was purely by god’s grace that we recovered the originals from their cardboard box, lying in the rubble. There was not even a speck of mud in the files,” Merchant told MiD DAY.

Venting his angst against heirs Irfan, Sharif and Mohd Ali Furniturewala, Merchant alleged they had dragged their feet in conveying properties to four residents of the building, obstructing the formation of a society. The properties had been converted from tenancies to ownerships. Had a society been formed, it could have paid for and repaired damage caused to the building. “Despite letters being sent to the landlords, nothing was done to repair the building. It was dilapidated, and they were not paying taxes. Eventually the residents directly began paying taxes to the BMC,” said Merchant.

The northern half of a showroom in the premises was leased to the MD of Fort Point Sundeep Kumar Bafna, who already owned the shop on the southern side and the basement. “The slab on the ground floor is four inches thick. It is not meant for storing cars. It is white-collar hawking,” Merchant said. Originally, there was a furniture showroom there.

Waiting to happen
On November 9, 2008, Merchant himself saw debris and rubble lying outside the building. In the basement, five pillars, which supported the building’s weight, had been ‘stripped’ for renovation. Merchant claimed this was done to shave a few inches off the pillars and gain some space.

The steel and mortar was exposed. “I confronted one Manish Patel, who was overseeing the work, and he said he was working for Bafna,” recalled Merchant. Recommendations by leading architect Chetan Raikar on how to repair the building went unheeded by the contractors.

Merchant alleged he had brought all of these illegalities to the notice of the BMC, but they were all ignored. When an inspector did visit the premises, he gave a misleading report to his superiors, claiming that he had noticed no irregularities.

Hoarding trouble
A large hoarding was also placed on top of the building, which fell on May 2012. After the building residents complained that no permissions had been taken to mount it, proposals to reinstate it fell through. “Had the hoarding still be there, the lives we managed to save from the other wing of the building would have been lost,” Merchant added.

Merchant called for a ward-wise registrar for deemed conveyances, instead of the current system where people have to go all the way to Navi Mumbai, avoiding buyer harassment while conveying property. When contacted, Senior PI Avinash Sonavane said, “We have restricted the movements of the accused. We have also put out lookout notices on them. They are currently absconding.”

Anatomy of disaster
Alterations that weakened the building
Supporting pillars stripped; not adequately renovated
Hole made for windows in RCC frame; later repaired
Hole made for access to illegal shed behind building
Giant hoarding erected on roof, which fell in May 2012 

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