New Delhi: At least 13 people died and nine were injured after a decrepit building collapsed in south Mumbai's congested Dongri locality on Tuesday, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) said. More than 40 people were trapped under the debris, with rescue operations continuing till late in the night.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said the building was around 100 years old — it was not in the list of dilapidated structures and was given to a developer for redevelopment. Between 10 and 15 families lived in the building, he added.
The incident once again exposed the creaking infrastructure of India's financial capital. Last month, at least 29 people were killed and 70 injured after a compound wall collapsed on a slum in suburban Malad.
Civic officials said the four-storey residential Kesarbai building, in a maze of congested lanes and houses, came down shortly before noon. The building housed an eatery on the ground floor and was located in a bustling lane off Tandel Street.
The difficult access to the site prevented ambulances and earth-movers from being deployed and rescue workers, including residents, used their bare hands to remove concrete chunks, door frames and household items. Ambulances had to be parked 50 metres away.
Scores of local residents joined in the effort, forming a human chain to help remove the debris brick by brick and pick up slabs of concrete to locate those buried in the predominantly Muslim area.
The rescue work, hampered by narrow lanes, was further hindered by politicians, including ministers and legislators, making a beeline for the site.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among those who expressed his anguish at the loss of lives.
"Collapse of a building in Mumbai's Dongri is anguishing. My condolences to the families of those who lost their lives. I hope the injured recover soon. Maharashtra government, NDRF and local authorities are working on rescue operations & assisting those in need," the Prime Minister's Office said in a tweet.
Mumbai Mayor Vishwanath Mahadeshwar said he had asked the municipal commissioner to launch a probe.
The BMC has opened a shelter at Imamwada Municipal Secondary Girls School after the building collapse, a civic official said.
"We are assuming that 10 to 12 families are still under the debris," Mumbadevi MLA Amin Patel said.
Mumbai Municipal Commissioner Praveen Pardeshi and Police Commissioner Sanjay Barve were among those who visited the site of the building collapse.
Minister of State for Housing Ravindra Waikar said compensation would be given as per government norms.
Questions raised over ownership
As rescue efforts went on, there was confusion over which body owned the building. Locals said it belonged to the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA). However, MHADA repair board chief Vinod Ghosalkar denied that was the case.
"MHADA's repair and reconstruction board clarifies that its cessed property 25/C Kesarbai building is not the one that collapsed this morning," it said in a statement.
MHADA looks after the maintenance of several old and dilapidated private buildings in the city. Such buildings are termed as "cessed" as its residents pay tax to MHADA. Earlier, locals had said the building that collapsed was a cessed building under MHADA's supervision.
"In fact, an unauthorised construction erected behind that building is the one that crashed," said MHADA chief public relations officer Vaishali Gadpale.
Residents of Kesarbai — some officials had given its name as Kesarbaug — building had vacated it in 2018 as it had become dilapidated, MHADA sources said.
Legislator Bhai Jagtap said residents had complained to housing authorities to take prompt measures as the building was very old and had long been in a dilapidated state.
A civic official said around 500 buildings were declared as dilapidated this year but of them, only 68 have been evacuated.
Congress leader Milind Deora urged Mumbaikars to seek an explanation from the government for this problem that occurred each monsoon. "This is unfortunately something that happens in Mumbai every year during monsoon. Walls collapse, there are pot holes on roads where people die and young boys fall into manholes," he said.
Earlier this month, more than 20 people were killed in multiple incidents of wall collapses in the city's worst monsoon rains in a single day in 14 years.
In March, five persons were killed and 29 injured after a section of a foot overbridge outside Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus collapsed during rush hour. In July last year, the pedestrian section of the Gokhale bridge in Andheri bridge collapsed, killing two people.
(With PTI inputs)