Church seeks probe into Mumbai building collapse

Ten people were killed and many were trapped in the latest of a series of collapses in the Indian commercial hub
Church seeks probe into Mumbai building collapse

Police Commissioner Sanjay Barve (baton in hand) visits the site where a four-story building collapsed on July 16. (IANS photo)

ucanews.com reporter, New Delhi
India
July 17, 2019
Catholics in India's commercial hub of Mumbai have joined demands for an official inquiry into the collapse of a four-story building that killed at least 10 people.

The century-old building in the rain-soaked city collapsed on the morning of July 16, trapping scores of residents under debris.

Mumbai, a western city of some 20 million people, has had several British colonial buildings collapse in recent years.

Safety fears intensify during the July-August rainy season as large numbers of people live in poorly maintained and overcrowded apartment blocks.

Critics accuse authorities of failing to take adequate measures to prevent collapses from occurring.

State Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis confirmed the building was 100 years old but added that it was as yet too early to know whether negligence was involved. "Right now, we are focusing on rescuing trapped people," Fadnavis said.

Father Nigel Barrett, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Bombay, underlined the importance of conducting a proper probe as allegations needed to be supported by hard evidence.

"The state has a system to scrutinizes the safety of buildings," he said. "As of now, we have no concrete evidence that this was not done."

Only a probe would reveal whether the government had previously determined that the building was unsafe, he added.

Even after the government demarcates a building as unsafe, people often still do not move out and owners continue to collect rent from tenants, the priest said when citing local media reports.

People risk their lives because of poverty and the government should devise a system to provide low-income housing as well as temporary accommodation for people at risk, he added.

A 2018 survey by a government agency, the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority, found that 100 buildings in the southern part of Mumbai were dangerous.

It is obligatory for every owner and occupier of buildings more than 30 years old to have them inspected every 10 years by qualified structural engineers registered with the city's Municipal Corporation. City authorities are supposed to act on such inspection reports.

Besides the age of buildings, poor-quality construction, additions and improper maintenance contribute to collapses.

For example, a 32-year-old, five-story building owned by the Municipal Corporation collapsed in September 2013 after a tenant built a mezzanine floor without permission, killing 61 people and injuring more than 30.

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Government data shows that 234 people died and 840 were injured in building collapses in the past five years in Mumbai.

In January last year, a 117-year-old building in a south Mumbai suburb came crashing down, killing 33 people and injuring more than 14. The dead included 23 men, nine women and a 20-day-old child.

Father Barrett said both officials and residents are responsible for recurring loss of life. Officials had to ensure that residents were evacuated from buildings determined to be unsafe. "People should understand the gravity of the situation and move out," Father Barrett told ucanews.com.

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