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Mumbai building collapse: BMC had warned citizens not to stay near frail building

Civic body had served notices to Shankarlok building, as well as six buildings near it and Catherine chawl, cautioning their residents that they shouldn’t stay inside or close to it, but to no avail

The victims of the Shankarlok building collapse — those who survived and those who didn’t - were well aware of its extreme dilapidation. The BMC had warned them time and again that it could fall anytime.

Rendered Homeless: Locals and firefighters sift through the rubble after the collapse
Rendered Homeless: Locals and firefighters sift through the rubble after the collapse. Pic/Nimesh Dave

The residents of six buildings, as well as the abutting Catherine chawl, were served notices to be stay away from Shankarlok, which came down around 11.45 am in Vakola.

The ground-plus-seven-storey structure was 35 years old, and had been declared dangerous for habitation by the BMC in 2008 and an eviction notice was issued to the residents. However, a resident of the building had dragged the matter to court, stopping the BMC from taking action and evacuating them. The BMC then sent another notice to them in 2010.

On March 6 this year, the BMC issued its last notice to the distressed building, and also to the six buildings and the chawl in its vicinity, cautioning residents that Shankarlok was in a state of utter disrepair and could fall any time, and that the occupants should not be staying close to it.

Sanjay Deshmukh, municipal additional commissioner (western suburbs), said, “An advocate residing on the ground floor of Shankarlok building had obtained a stay order from court on the BMC’s eviction notice, even though the building needed urgent demolition. If only the families occupying it had listened to us and vacated it, no lives would have been lost today.”

He added, “We had issued notices to Catherine chawl, stating that the water tank of Shankarlok building was towards them and if the building did come down, it might collapse right on top of their chawl.”

The chawl comprised some 21 homes.

Lauren Fernandes, a resident of the chawl, said, “I have been staying here for the past 12 years. But since then, Shankarlok building has been partially vacated. I had gone to my mother’s with my daughter. Minutes before the building collapsed on our chawl, I had called up my husband, who came out of the house to attend the phone, and was thus saved.”

Local corporator Sunaina Potnis said that she had recently held a joint meeting and raised the issue of safety for chawl residents, after which the BMC had issued them notices.

'Where were we supposed to go?'

“Pandeyji bahar aao, lagta hai building girne wali hai.”

Sanjeev Pandey
Sanjeev Pandey and (below) his wife Sheila with their 4-year-old Sargam

Neighbours and bystanders at Shankarlok building cried out urgently, and it was their shouts that saved Sanjeev Pandey, his wife Sheila and kids Sargam (4) and Swaraj (14).

Sheila with their 4-year-old Sargam

“I heard some noise from outside while the television was on. I heard people shouting that I should come out, and I immediately rushed out with my wife and kids. We were on the ground floor so we could escape easily.”

Asked why he was still residing in a building that was declared dilapidated and unsafe for occupation, Pandey said, “The builder who wanted to redevelop our building hadn’t given us any alternate accommodation, so we were staying there. Even the BMC didn’t give us any other solution, and instead asked us to vacate the building. Where were poor people like us supposed to go?”

Fireman suffers sunstroke
Chief Fire Officer A N Verma (57) suffered from sunstroke while the rescue operation was going on at Shankarlok building.

A N Verma

His colleagues came to help him and took him to the doctors present at the site. They checked his blood pressure, since he was complaining of chest pain. He was then rushed to V N Desai Hospital. The medical superintendent of the hospital said, “He suffered from a sunstroke and we discharged him after initial medical checkup. He had dehydrated.”  

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