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 recommended transit accommodation to tenants and urgent repairs. It said the building was in the C2(B) category - requiring urgent repairs. “We were waiting for an approval to repair the building after which we would have intimated the residents to vacate it,” says a senior civic official, who did not wish to be named.
The unending exchange of files meant no tender for repair or redevelopment was ever floated. It was only in February 2012 that final cost estimates were made and approval given for including the repair under the BMC’s work programme. In March this year, the BMC budget set aside Rs 1.25 crore for the building’s repair.
The blame game for the delay in repair is now being played between markets and P&D, the two departments under Mhaiskar. When contacted, she told The Indian Express, “This building was never flagged under C1 category. Had it been flagged as one that requires eviction, then we would have left no stone unturned.” C1 means the building needs to be immediately evacuated of residents.