x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Police hunt for Mumbai death tower builders

Seventeen children were among the 47 killed when the partly built seven-storey structure in Thane suburb collapsed on Thursday.

Rescue workers pulled a number of survivors from the debris after an unauthorised building collapsed in Thane district on the oustskirts of Mumbai.
Rescue workers pulled a number of survivors from the debris after an unauthorised building collapsed in Thane district on the oustskirts of Mumbai.

NEW DELHI // The builders of a tower block that collapsed in Mumbai killing at least 47 people were being hunted by police yesterday as anger grew over illegal construction sites in India's cities.

Seventeen children were among those killed and 70 were injured when the partly-built seven-storey structure in Thane suburb collapsed on Thursday. Rescue teams had by yesterday afternoon pulled 15 survivors from the mass of steel and concrete.

"There may be a possibility people have been trapped inside right now," police commissioner KP Raghuvanshi said yesterday.

Digambar Jangale, a police inspector, said several of the dead were construction workers who were working and staying within the building itself. At the time of the collapse, between 100 and 150 people were thought to be in the building.

A case of culpable homicide has been registered against two builders, whom the police were trying to trace, he added. At least four floors of the building had been completed and were occupied. Workers had finished three more floors and were adding the eighth when it collapsed, Mr Jangale said. "The building was an unauthorised construction" that was being built from sub-par materials, a local municipality official told NDTV news channel.

The neighbourhood in which the building collapsed was part of a belt of more than 2,000 illegal structures that had sprung up in the area in recent years, said Sandeep Malvi, a spokesman for the Thane government.

"Notices have been served several times for such illegal construction," he said. GR Khairnar, a former top Mumbai official, said government officials who allowed the illegal construction should be tried along with the builders. "There are a lot of people involved in illegal construction - builders, government machinery, police, municipal corporation - everybody is involved in this process," he told CNN-IBN television.

The scourge of illegal structures in Mumbai, a city pressed for space and brimming with 18.5 million people, has posed stern challenges to authorities. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the civic body that governs the city, announced this week that 65 of its engineers would from next month check illegal constructions or modifications of buildings.

The engineers will be empowered to order demolitions where necessary, and they will be able to act on complaints from citizens and activists. "This amendment will not only help curb unauthorised construction and corruption, but also ensure there is no passing the buck among officers," Mohan Adtani, Mumbai's municipal commissioner, told the Times of India on Tuesday.

But the initiative has come too late for the dozens of people affected by this week's tragedy in Thane. Similar challenges exist in other Indian cities. In late February, India's Supreme Court criticised the government for failing "miserably" in its duty to regulate construction activities in urban areas.

"In last five decades, the provisions contained in various municipal laws for planned development of the areas to which such laws are applicable have been violated with impunity in all the cities, big or small," a two-judge bench said.

In Delhi, police reported more than 4,500 illegal constructions to municipal authorities over the last year, according to a statement in parliament by M Ramachandran, the junior home minister. In total, civic agencies have been notified of about 84,000 such constructions over the last four years.

The Delhi High Court, in February, directed city authorities to begin demolishing illegal buildings and accused municipal officials of being either tardy or corrupt in their duties. "Immediate prosecution of errant officials is the only way to end the menace," the court said.

ssubramanian@thenational.ae

With additional reporting by Associated Press