For two years and eight months leading to the collapse of Babu Genu Market building that killed 61 people, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation had been awake to its precarious condition and the need for urgent repair.
Files with alerts, calls for repair, and recommendations for evacuation had kept moving from department to department. A private structural audit, too, had recommended transit accommodation to its occupants.
The only evacuation that took place was after the collapse. Rescuers could save only 33 people. The ground-plus-four structure, housing 22 families on its upper floors, included a godown on the mezzanine floor. The collapse on September 29 wiped out entire families and left single survivors in others.
Of the departments among which the warnings and recommendations were being exchanged, two, planning & design and markets, are under one of the BMC’s most senior officials, additional muncipal commissioner Manisha Mhaiskar.
The first warning had come on January 10, 2011, with the E-ward office (the building is there) writing to the P& D department requesting a site visit.
On July 6, 2012, the P&D deputy chief engineer wrote separately to the senior-most officials of E-ward and the markets department, which owns the building, advising immediate evacuation. It also cited a danger to the adjoining structure and passers-by. “Provide propping wherever necessary to avoid the danger to adjoining structure and passerby. Please treat this as most urgent,” it said.
The assistant commissioner of both E-ward and the market department was advised to remove additional load to the building by removing the mezzanine floor. The P&D department wrote again that July 23 with the same suggestions. The letter, marked “very very urgent”, said the assistant commissioner, markets, should do the needful to avoid any untoward incident on top priority. “Please inspect and report what action is to be initiated in four days +vely. Take all precautionary measures too.”
On November 5, 2012, a structural audit report by a private firm