NEW DELHI: A five-storey "weak" building collapsed in northwest Delhi on Wednesday, killing four children and two women, three weeks after the 20-year-old structure was "inspected" by a municipal team following complaints.
The Delhi government has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident, and police registered a case under IPC Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), punishable with a maximum jail term of 10 years, against the owner Dharmender, his business partner Sachin and Sachin's father Roshan Lal, who had rented out the building in Ashok Vihar. All the accused are on the run.
While police claimed that the building was inspected 20 days ago following complaints to the municipal body that it was in "dangerous" condition, North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) claimed that the building was not declared "dangerous" and it had not received any complaint against it.
There were 12 people inside the building when the tragedy struck. Eleven other occupants, among them seven kids, were outside. Four of the children were at school, while two children had accompanied their mother to her workplace and a 14-year-old girl was outside. The other four people were out on work.
Among those who were killed was Ashi, whose parents were looking forward to celebrating her third birthday on October 22. "My wife Seema and my children, Ashi and Shaurya, are gone," said a grieving Umesh, whose family was living on the second floor.
The ground floor of the building housed a shop, which was closed during the incident, while the second, third and fourth floors were occupied by tenants. The first floor had been vacated by the tenants a month ago since they felt the building was unsafe.
Residents of Sawan Park were in a state of fear after the incident and said many of them are also living in dilapidated buildings. They said they could have been in the place of those who died in the incident.
Two families were living on the third floor. Another deceased woman, Munni, was living in one of the houses on the third floor. The second family living on that floor lost two children, Rajnesh, aged four, and Sumnesh, aged 12, the police said.
The fourth floor was occupied by a couple -- Narottam and Nisha. Nisha is critical, the police said. The injured were rushed to Deep Chand Bandhu Hospital.
Bimlesh, who was present at the hospital and lost his sons Rajnesh and Sumnesh, said, "As soon as I left home and had barely walked a few metres, I heard a loud noise and when I turned back, I saw the building collapse like a pack of cards."
Locals claimed that along with the building, a sheesham tree, adjacent to the building, fell. A call about the incident was received at 9.25 am and six fire tenders were rushed to the spot near Sawan Park, an officer said.
A senior NDMC official said the building was about 20 years old. Its structure was weak and in a deteriorated condition, the official added.
The BJP-ruled North Delhi civic body came under fire from the Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress after the incident, with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who also visited the site, blaming the municipal corporation for not fulfilling its responsibility of safety of buildings.
A political slugfest also ensued with Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken slamming the BJP-ruled civic body for the tragedy and the BJP's Delhi unit demanding a judicial probe into the incident from the Lt Governor. Delhi BJP president Manoj Tiwari, along with NDMC mayor Adesh Gupta, visited the site and the hospital where the injured were admitted.
Union Minister Harsh Vardhan, who is the MP from the Chandni Chowk constituency in which the area falls, visited the site of the building collapse and said it is painful that they lost their lives in the most tragic manner.
Police said a complaint was lodged about the building being dangerous on August 16, 2017 and a team of civic body had inspected the building around 20 days ago, the police said.
However, the NDMC said the building was not declared "dangerous" and had not received any complaint against it. North Delhi mayor Adesh Gupta, who visited the site, ordered a detailed inquiry into the incident, while asserting that "strict action" will be taken against the guilty.
The civic body, however, admitted that the building was about 20-25 years old and its structure was "weak" and in a "deteriorated condition" while asserting that no new construction activity or construction material was found at the site.
As soon as the incident took place, two teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) were mobilised for rescue operations, its spokesperson said.