Building collapses – Playing with lives?

By Sushmita Dutta | Last Updated: May 10, 2013, 18:05 PM IST

It seems humanity is fast disappearing for the greed of money. Incidents of building collapse in the Shil Phata area of Mumbra, a suburb of Thane district in Maharashtra, and the worst industrial disaster in Bangladesh’s history, in which an eight-storeyed building collapsed killing over 700 people are the most recent and pertinent examples of it.

The collapse in Thane, of a residential building being constructed illegally, is one of the worst house collapses in India. About 74 ill-fated persons, including children and women, were killed when the seven-storeyed under-construction building, with no permissions whatsoever, crashed over a month ago on April 4.

"The building collapsed like a pack of cards within three to four seconds," an eyewitness said. Those who lost their lives in the `unlucky` building of the ‘Lucky Compound’ are the victims of urbanisation, quick money, shortage of housing and all-round apathy.

Rescue efforts which continued throughout the night, could save only a few. The rescue team, which comprised he National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) along with local police and civic administration, complained of shortage of high-tech equipment and training. It is a shame that even the NDRF is ill-equipped to tackle such a tragedy.

Police said the collapse occurred due to the use of substandard building material. Witnesses said the work on the structure had started just six weeks back. The builder had raised six floors in such a short span of time and work was in full swing on the seventh floor, they added.

In another part of the subcontinent, a story similar to Shil Phata was repeated. April 24 proved to be a black day for people working in a multi-storied building in Bangladesh. Over 750 bodies have been recovered till now from the rubble of the eight-storey Rana Plaza in Dhaka – this is the worst industrial disaster in the history of Bangladesh.

Search teams say the toll could go up further as many people have yet to be accounted for and the rubble of the pan-caked building was still not fully cleared. The stench from the lower floors suggests more unfortunate victims could be trapped inside.

The building had five garment factories and trapped almost 3,000 people when it went down. Over 2000 people have been rescued from the debris so far. Most of the dead were female workers. Even now many people are waiting by the debris hoping to hear some good news about their near and dear ones.

If we dig deeper into the rubble of both the buildings, a shocking truth emerges - a combined story of dishonesty, high level of corruption and the greed for making a quick buck. It lays bare the fact that everything illegal is possible, including turning a blind eye to a structure that is ready to trap and kill to death hundreds of human lives. It shows that the collapses are a horrible outcome of neglect and greed.

In the Thane incident, police have arrested 22 persons, including builders, police officers and municipality officials. Police Commissioner KP Raghuvanshi said that two builders - Jamil Qureshi and Salim Shaikh - were arrested for allegedly paying bribes to police and municipality officials to construct the building without any official sanction. Also, a case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder was registered against them. This incident exposed a nefarious nexus of land grabbing involving the builders, politicians, police and bureaucrats.

Surprisingly, not only the building was illegal, but it was also erected on an encroached land - the builder had no rights to carry out any construction there. Activists claim that they had sought action in the case long back, with the civic administration also insisting that it had sent two notices to builders. In a shocking disclosure, prosecution informed the court that municipal officials, who had gone to serve notices to builder Abdul Salim Aziz Siddiqui two days before the incident, allegedly advised him not to accept it in his name.

Media reports also suggest that there were lapses at every level in this case. The land on which the structure was constructed actually belonged to Forest Department. A very clever modus operandi was employed by the builders, wherein they let flats out to tenants even before the building was completed. They did so in order to ensure the authorities could not demolish the structure. As Thane Municipal Commissioner RA Rajeev admitted, “There are at least 2,000 buildings illegally built in Mumbra, one of the most difficult areas, both socially and communally - under the TMC.” But what can be done when all the levels of administration and builders are involved in such a nexus?

Notably, this is not an isolated incident of a building collapse in India. Two such incidents had earlier rocked Maharashtra while one occurred in Delhi. Thirteen people died when a building collapsed in Wagholi, Maharashtra in December 2012, while six people were killed in Pune incident. At least 70 people were killed when a residential building caved in November 2010 in East Delhi’s Lakshmi Nagar area.

Due to high population growth, there is always a demand for economical housing. To make money out of this demand, houses in illegally-constructed buildings are being sold at a lower price compared to those in legal ones. In this vicious circle, many have had to lose their life and hard earned money just for the sake of someone else’s desire to earn ‘quick money’.

The Bangladesh building collapse also narrates the same story of people making quick money by putting at stake other people`s lives. Bangladesh police have charged the building owner, Sohel Rana, and five factory owners with causing death due to negligence and violating construction laws, charges punishable by a maximum of seven years in jail.

The question is – is this ‘blood money’ going to be useful in anyway? The answer is ‘no’.

William Shakespeare aptly said, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

Everyone needs a shelter including animals and birds. And so do human beings. But this basic requirement of a ‘house’ is being grossly misused by some unscrupulous people. In India, many politicians and bureaucrats have dreamt of turning Mumbai into Shanghai. But there is a long way to go before this dream is realised. For Mumbai to be like the Chinese megapolis, it needs to pay heed to the aspirations of people and provide a better life to the ordinary Mumbaikars.