Lindsay Pereira: How safe is your building?

We live in a city where corruption, incompetence and inefficiency combine to turn thousands of homes into potential death traps

The Ghatkopar building collapsed because adjustments to the structure that shouldn't have been allowed were made nonetheless. File picThe Ghatkopar building collapsed because adjustments to the structure that shouldn't have been allowed were made nonetheless. File pic

Here's a bit of sunshine to brighten your day. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) - that august body with a long history of attempting to turn Bombay into Shanghai - has reportedly announced that 791 buildings in our city are dangerous to live in. This list has been published as part of the organisation's 'pre-monsoon preparedness,' which will come as a surprise to millions of us who have long believed that the word 'preparedness' can never be used in any sentence that refers to the BMC.

And yet, this list exists. There's a new one published annually, and this year's lucky 791 supposedly belong to the most dangerous category. Some have since been demolished, others evacuated, but approximately 60 per cent of them continue to stand (or barely stand, as it were), according to media reports. The building that recently collapsed in Ghatkopar, killing 17 people, including one infant, was not on this list. It wasn't on any list, apparently, and fell simply because adjustments to the structure that shouldn't have been allowed to be made were made nonetheless.

Here's another piece of information that should make you sleep more comfortably tonight. Our fair city boasts the highest number of unnatural accidents in the form of collapsing structures, according to the National Crime Records Bureau data. That's what they said four years ago, and nothing appears to have made them change their minds since then.

Remember the Thane building collapse of 2013, which claimed 74 lives, including 18 children? A probe revealed that it didn't have an occupancy certificate and had been illegally constructed, ignoring standard practices. Among the 15 suspects arrested in the aftermath of the tragedy were municipal officials and engineers. Two months after that incident, 10 people were killed when a five-storey building collapsed in Mahim. That same year saw four more collapses, with a death toll of over 70 people. There were further collapses in 2014 (seven killed in Santacruz), 2015 (nine killed near Thakurli railway station in Thane, four in a collapse at Naupada) and 2016 (six killed in Kamathipura, six children in a Bandra building). What made the last tragedy worse was the fact that rescue teams couldn't reach the spot on account of over-crowding and narrow lanes.

One of the residents of the building in Ghatkopar put up a harrowing video of rescue operations live on Facebook. She was weeping, demanding justice for the losses she and her family had been forced to suffer for no fault of their own. The man responsible for the collapse has since been arrested, but there are no reports of arrests involving government employees who turned a blind eye to what was happening. These are people who allow pavements to be taken over illegally, bus stops to be turned into makeshift food stalls, and public parks to become temporary shelters for decades. They function with impunity, safe in the knowledge that a tragedy of this sort will stop making headlines 76 hours after the debris has been cleared away.

A few weeks ago, the government came up with a brilliant plan to hide the inefficiency, incompetence and corruption rampant in so many of its organisations. It decided to regularise lakhs of illegal and unauthorised structures for a fee. Think about what this means. People who have bypassed all kinds of laws to build anything they like, in any place they choose to, using any material they see fit, will be allowed to go about their business and possibly sell spaces in these dangerous structures to unsuspecting buyers, who will believe they are buying something that has been vetted by a proper authority.

Think about the last time anyone from the BMC bothered to check on illegal structures, food stalls or shelters in your area. Think about your local railway station and the access roads that lead to it. Consider that there are departments whose sole reason for existence is to ensure these things don't happen, who presumably sit back and do nothing while residents continue to die in homes that become death traps overnight.

We should all try and have a chat with someone who has lost a family member or friend in a tragedy like this. We should try and find out how they have coped, what their government has done for them, and whether or not they believe they have been given justice. We should do this because, in the absence of an organisation that does its job well, we have only each other to rely upon.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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