Seven persons died and several were injured after two buildings collapsed in Mumbai on July 16. The city has been receiving heavy rainfall for the past three days, leading the State administration to sound an “orange alert”. According to the India Meteorological Department, the city has recorded 191.2mm of rainfall this month, which is among the highest received in the month of July since 2015.
In what has become an annual problem, dilapidated, old buildings, unable to withstand the monsoon’s fury, collapse, causing deaths and severe injuries to people. Often many city residents lose their only shelter. These incidents point to the civic body’s apathetic attitude and incompetence with regard to monsoon-related problems and the urgent need for a comprehensive development plan for Mumbai.
On July 16, over a third of the building named Bhanushali in Mumbai’s Fort area crumbled, leaving five persons dead. While many managed to evacuate the residential building located in the Ganesh Chawl block, at least three people sustained major injuries, said the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in an official statement. The National Disaster Response Force was called in to help the Mumbai Fire Brigade in search-and-rescue operations.
In a similar incident, two people died after a three-storey chawl in the Malvani area of Malad, northern Mumbai, collapsed. According to the BMC, 13 people were taken to hospital. Many shanty type structures in the low-income group neighbourhood got damaged by falling debris. BMC officials say owners of the buildings will be taken to task in case of such incidents. There has been a drive in recent months to either demolish old structures or renovate them to an inhabitable condition.
Old structures, old laws
Last July, two major rain-related incidents claimed the lives of close to 50 people. Such tragedies can be averted if the civic administration takes on a more proactive and responsible role in looking into old structures in the city. Mumbai has hundreds of structures that are well over a century old. Almost all of them are still used for commercial or residential purposes. Significantly, owing to the old rent control laws, which are still valid, landlords refuse to maintain buildings in a proper condition saying that their incomes are so low that they do not cover the maintenance costs.
Following last year’s tragedy, the State administration has hauled up the BMC demanding that the civic body survey areas that have a predominance of old structures. The BMC claims they have warned owners about the immediate need to reinforce buildings or allow the real estate to be sold.
Urban planners, however, repeatedly point out that the problem is complex and mired in layers of bureaucracy, which needs to be sorted out before any form of development can take place. They say the city’s urban development is a mess because of the involvement of multiple agencies such as the BMC, the Maharashtra Housing Area Development Authority (MHADA), and land sharks in urban development. Adding to the problem is the complicated housing regulation laws and rules, encroachments and uncontrolled spread of slums.