Mumbai building collapse: Narrow lanes bar machines, human chain clears debris

Tabassum Barnagarwala
Firefighters and NDRF personnel carry out rescue work after the Kesarbai Mansion collapsed on Tuesday. (Express photo)

With the three-storey Kesarbai Mansion in Dongri partially collapsing on Tuesday, a long queue of local residents and civic officials snaked out of the narrow alley from the building till the main road, as boulders and crates full of debris exchanged hands the entire day to clear the site and locate the injured.

With a maze of narrow pathways, access of poclain machines and excavators to the crash site was made impossible, forcing teams of Mumbai Fire Brigade and National Disaster Relief Force, even local residents, to manually lift debris iron, blankets, twisted poles, huge boulders, utensils and dump them on the main road, a five-minute walk. Excavators picked up the debris from the main road and carried it away.

At least 10 people, including an 18-month-old boy, were killed and eight others were injured in the collapse. Rescue workers were unable to say how many more were feared trapped under the rubble. On Tuesday night, at least six persons were missing. Dr Sanjay Surase, superintendent at JJ hospital, said that seven remain admitted with blunt trauma, head injuries and suffocation problems. Those who died mostly suffered suffocation and head injuries, he added.

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While the Kesarbai Mansion was reportedly built in 1934, the portion that collapsed was allegedly illegally constructed in the late 1980s, claimed Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA). The collapse took place after 11 am, about half hour after repair work on a ground floor rented godown ended. Local residents claimed the repair work was undertaken to lay new flooring.

There were five flats on the first floor, five on second floor, and entire third floor was occupied by the family of Abdul Sattar (55), who died in the collapse, said third floor resident Danish Shaikh.

Relatives break down outside JJ hospital. (Express photo by Prashant Nadkar)

On the ground floor, there were five shops, including that of tailor Isar Ahmed, who was trapped along with two women, his customers. Late Tuesday, one of the two customers made a call to a family member, informing them that she and Ahmed were trapped. She said they were safe but could not explain where exactly are they trapped. We all fell silent trying to hear their voices, but we heard nothing, said Ahmed s relative Abdul.

Rescue operations were delayed as local residents tried to clear debris of three storeys in a confined space of not more than 750 square feet, forcing rescue teams to jostle for space. Residents in the other part of the building vacated the dilapidated structure immediately.

Kasim Kasimi, who lives on the first floor, had a narrow escape. My wife was at work. I had stepped out and one side of the building crashed. Half of my flat is destroyed, he said. Muzammil Salmani (14), who was on the second floor, died. His father Mansoor said Muzammil had come to Mumbai to spend a few days. Their relatives Sana (25) and her son Ibrahim Salmani (18 months) also died.

At night, Rasheed Idrisy continued to look for wife Alema and sons Shehzad (5) and Arbaaz (8). The family had shifted on rent in the building s first floor two months ago for Alema s treatment. The broker never told me the building was dilapidated or under talks for redevelopment, said Idrisy.

Also read | Redevelopment of building was neither viable nor feasible

Local residents said that a person called Abid was digging into a wall in the building, resulting in the collapse. Salim Tamboli, a local resident said, We have learnt that he owned a godown on the ground floor of the building and while he was digging a hole on the wall, the building collapsed.

Another resident said that he fled when he sensed that the building was about to fall. Around 4 pm, he revisited the spot and when we spotted him, the local residents started assaulting him. He again fled, said Tamboli.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Avinash Dharmadikari (Dongri Division) said, We have so far registered an accidental death report. We will wait for BMC s report on the collapse.

Safdar Karmali, chairman of Bai Hirabai Rahimbhai Aloo Paroo & Bai Kesharbai Dharmasey Khakoo Charitable & Religious Trust said, There were 40 tenants in B wing of Kesarbai Mansion building, which has collapsed. We were in talks with the tenants for redevelopment. We have asked them to pay 50 per cent for redevelopment but some of them did not agree. This had stalled the project.

A four storied building collapsed at Dongiri in Mumbai on Tuesday. (Express photo by Ganesh Shirsekar)

Two tenants, Abdul Sattar and Sakir, were speaking on behalf of the tenants and they were in touch with some developers… Along with local MLA Amin Patel, we had a meeting with tenants last Saturday… Since tenants were not agreeing with our condition and they wanted us to bear the whole cost of redevelopment, we were supposed to meet the tenants again for talks this week.

Karmali alleged that the building collapsed due to alterations done by Sakir in the ground floor. The trust, which belongs to the Shia community, is the landlord of the building and has 12 buildings under it in Dongri.

While wing A of the building was constructed in 1934, it was vacated last year since it was declared dilapidated, Karmali added. Asked about the illegal construction that collapsed, he said, Some major repair work was undertaken by tenants around 15 years ago… some illegal constructions were also made.

The trust pays cess to MHADA for Kesarbai Mansion, he added.

Another trustee of Kesarbai Mansion, Ali Shroff, also claimed that the building was legal and they were paying cess to MHADA.

After two hours of investigation by the MHADA following the collapse, it was learnt that the collapsed part was not among the cessed properties in its record books. However, the Kesarbai Mansion, was a cessed MHADA property. Declared unfit for living, it was vacated by the residents in 2018.

Hours after the mishap, BMC and MHADA traded charges.

A relative of the deceased near the collapsed building on Tuesday. (Express photo by Ganesh Shirsekar)

MHADA Chief PRO Vaishali Gadpale said: The collapsed part is an illegal extension to the cessed property that continues to stand. The collapsed portion of the building does not come under the Mumbai Repair and Reconstruction Board, since it is not a cessed building.

A senior MHADA official said, It s really not acceptable. Without checking facts, BMC claimed that it is a MHADA apartment… Officials claimed the illegal construction should have been checked by BMC.

However, a BMC official said: The documents available with the local ward shows that the MHADA was collecting cess from both properties (also from the collapsed structure) since 1994. This means that it was MHADA s property. If it was illegal, then why was the MHADA accepting cess from both the buildings? Since it has collapsed, they are simply trying to pass the buck to the BMC.

(Inputs from Sagar Rajput, Laxman Singh, Srinath Rao, Neeraj Tiwari)