Hundreds of locals were seen thronging the site of the building collapse in Lucky compound, Mumbra, on Friday, despite the police cordoning off the site. Heavy rescue machinery had been deployed to clear the debris and save the victims. Over 100 National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel, firefighters and police personnel were involved in the rescue operations and crowd-control. Amidst all this, 61-year-old Bashir Sheikh stood right near the entry and exit point of the site and distributed biscuits and water to the toiling rescue personnel.
This reporter asked a firefighter at the site, who said, “Sheikh has been distributing food and water for free since Friday morning. Though the locals had arranged for packed food for us, we hardly had time to eat. Sheikh, on the contrary, stood alone distributing small packets of glucose biscuits and water bottles. It is easier for us to quickly munch biscuits and continue with our work.”
At 5 am on Friday, after hearing the news of the building collapse, Sheikh, a retired Central Railway employee, immediately rushed to the spot and decided to help the rescue personnel.
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Sheikh said, “When I reached here I spotted few people bringing in huge boxes containing biscuits and water bottles and dropping them near the ambulances parked near the exit point. Also, the police had set up a barricade and did not allow locals to go closer to the spot.” Sheikh was allowed to enter the site after an hour on the pretext of volunteering to distribute water.
When he entered the site he was overwhelmed by the situation and decided that he would not leave the place until the rescue operations were over. He realised that the personnel needed food and were thirsty after working for hours together trying to clear the debris and save more lives.
He initially started distributing the water bottles and biscuit packets individually to the ambulance staff, firefighters and police personnel. But soon he realised that he was causing a hindrance and decided to set up a distribution point close to the exit point.
When this reporter approached Sheikh, he was offered a bottle of water. When asked if he had eaten anything so far, the 61-year-old said, “I have been standing here since 16 hours and not had any refreshments. The locals who were bringing packed food offered me a packet but I refused. It is more important that the rescue personnel get sufficient food.”
“Someone later offered me two vada-pavs but they are still lying packed as I did not get the time to eat. People are constantly walking in and out of the site and are hungry and thirsty. I need to help them first,” he added.
Sheikh claimed that he had never been to the Lucky compound before and didn’t know anyone from the area. When this reporter cajoled him for a picture, he argued, “Why do you want to take my picture? The rescue personnel are the real heroes. I am merely someone who is trying to help.”