Thane building collapse: Death toll rises
Even as the death toll in Thursday evening's seven-storey building collapse rose to 48, two officials were suspended Friday for not heeding complaints regarding the unauthorised structure.
Civic and police officials said that Deputy Municipal Commissioner Deepak Chavan and Senior Police Inspector K.P. Naik of Shil-Daighar Police Station had been suspended.
"Another official, the ward officer of the zone, was suspended in January by the civic commissioner for laxity in acting against complaints of unauthorised structures," a civic official said.
Disaster management and fire brigade officials continued rescue operations Friday, over 24 hours after the tragedy.
"We have pulled out 48 dead bodies. We have rescued 59 people. At least 25 people are still trapped under the rubble. We plan to rescue them slowly to avoid any more injury," National Disaster Response Force Commander Alok Awasthi said here.
A Thane disaster management official said while efforts were on to rescue those trapped under the debris, many victims were yet to be identified.
"Eight to 10 victims who were critical have been shifted to hospital in Mumbai. We pulled out many children," he added.
At least 10 children succumbed to their injuries in the incident, police said.
While civic officials admitted that the building was unauthorised, they blamed the builders who went ahead with the construction despite not having relevant permissions.
When asked if the building was on forest land, a civic official confirmed the same stating that the forest department did not heed to its correspondence.
"We had written to the concerned forest official requesting him to look into the unauthorised construction of the building in October last year. We had even sent a reminder next month but did not get any response," he told IANS.
The official said that in March, a notice was slapped on builder Adnan Seth, one of the partners in the company constructing the structure.
A forest official said that the land was privately owned and did not come under the purview of the forest department.
Police have registered a case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder against the two builders, Jamil Qureshi and Salim Shaikh, who have promptly gone underground.
Civic sources also said that sub-standard material was used in construction of the building and that it had no occupancy certificate. They also hinted at the involvement of politically motivated fourth party.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and Home Minister R.R. Patil visited the spot.
Termed as one of the worst building disasters in the state in the past decade, activists from the area said that there were scores of such building in the Mumbra-Kalyan region due to the builder-officials-police-politicians nexus.
Thane houses many heavy industries.
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) legislator from the area Ramesh Patil alleged that the municipal commissioner did not pay heed to his complaints about the building being unauthorised and unfit for occupation.
There were around 35 families residing in the building.
Local activist Mangal Patil had also registered repeated complaints with the Thane Municipal Corporation about the unauthorised structure, but to no avail. Speaking to mediapersons, Mangal Patil claimed that there were over 100 such buildings in the area
The eighth floor of the building located at Lucky Compound on Mahape Road at Shil Phata on Mumbai-Nashik Highway was being laid. Civic officals claimed that the building had been constructed in breach of construction norms, like many in the neighbourhood, which may have led to the disaster. Each floor had about six flats and there were families living on five floors. It has been learnt that tuition classes were being held on the second floor at the time because of which many kids are feared trapped inside the rubble.
Shama Khatun, who stays in the building next door, reached the spot after the news of collapse. Her brother stays there. “My 14 family members who shifted here two months back are feared trapped and I am not aware of how they are. They used to live on the fourth floor of the building. There were five kids in the family. My sister-in-law Sakina Shaikh was seven-months pregnant.”
Owing to the ongoing construction on the eighth floor, many labourers are among those caught in the wreckage. Labourers employed in the construction of the top storey said the building was supposed to be five storeys, and that the sixth and the seventh floors had been constructed illegally. Ballu Prajapati (34), a construction worker who suffered injuries to his forehead and eyes, said, “Most of the builders in the area construct several floors illegally, after managing to get the gram panchayat’s nod.”
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The injured were immediately rushed to Kalsekar hospital in Mumbra for treatment. Their names are Maz (16), Imran (25), Raju Chavan (30), Abdul Wahab (40), Suresh Kumar (27), Nirza Beg (8), Dinesh Ram (32), Siddique (12), Abinandhan (7), Bacha Bhai (25) and Gulzar (6). Some of them who suffered minor injuries were transferred to Shivaji Hospital in Kalva. They include but are not restricted to: Kangi Bhai (30), Mohammed Afroz Haq (34), Saizad (25), Raja (26), Shahid Ahmed (46), Natrul Rathod (32), Jayesh Parakash (25) and Ballu (34).
Help arrives late
Locals claimed that rescue teams reached the spot late. The fire brigade officials arrived an hour after the collapse. But their salvaging operations were severely hampered by the ongoing construction around the building. Moreover, hundreds of people had gathered outside the disaster site. Many bystanders stood on the debris to look at the spectacle, further constricting operations.
The rescue equipment had to squeeze its way through a narrow entrance. It was packed with curious bystanders and officials found it difficult to manage the crowd. After trying for more than 45 minutes, a small crane managed to go inside the fallen structure to clear out the wreckage.
Sharad Patil, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena shakha pramukh, said, “We have been following the issue of illegal buildings with the Thane Municipal Commissioner but he chose to turn a deaf ear, because of which the disaster struck. There are many such illegal buildings here. If nothing is done against them, they will face the same fate.”
Santosh Kadam, head of disaster management cell, Thane, said, “The incident happened at 5 pm. The construction of the building, which is illegal, was completed within three months. Due to the narrow lanes leading up to it, we are finding it difficult to carry out rescue work. Around 35 families were staying in this building.”
There were severe vibrations before the building collapsed. When the vibrations started I managed to rush out of the building from the seventh floor, as the building collapsed behind me. My brother-in-law Bachcha Prajapati (35) and two of my distant brothers, Raja Pandit (28) and Ambrika (35) are still trapped under the debris. - Ballu Prajapati (34), one of the victims who suffered injuries to his forehead and left eye, was working on seventh floor.
I have been in the construction business for the past 10 years and I have never seen such an incident. I was working in the adjacent building along with my labourers. Fifteen of my labourers were working in the building that collapsed. Three managed to escape but 11 are still trapped under the debris. The seventh and the eighth floor were almost ready and were ready to be sold. If this incident would have happened 10 days from now, then 10 more families could have been affected. - Rakesh Kumar (37), a contract labourer who worked in the building adjacent.
I took a tea break and was on my way to resume work. I reached the seventh floor when the building started to collapse. I ducked and covered my head to save myself from the falling debris. The debris hit my back and hip. I was surrounded by debris but I managed to push it off and escape. Santosh (47), the contractor who hired me may still be trapped in the debris - Rajkumar Rajput (27) escaped with minor injuries after about an hour of the incident.
With inputs from Varun Singh and agencies