Bombay HC orders judicial inquiry into Malad building collapse: ‘Every stakeholder is failing in duty’

It also sought to know from civic authorities the entire mechanism by which illegal constructions come up in cities.

Describing the building collapse at Malad in Mumbai as a man-made disaster, the Bombay High Court on Friday ordered a judicial inquiry into the incident that led to the deaths of 12 people, including eight children.

The Court appointed former HC judge Justice (Retd) J P Deodhar as Commissioner of Inquiry and directed him to submit a preliminary report before June 24.

Expressing “shock” over three other incidents of building collapse reported in Mumbai and nearby areas since last month, the HC observed that “every stakeholder has failed in its duty”. It also sought to know from civic authorities the entire mechanism by which illegal constructions come up in cities.

A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni conducted an urgent hearing in a suo motu public interest litigation it had initiated last September after the collapse of a building in Thane’s Bhiwandi, which claimed around 40 lives.

The court noted that between May 15 and June 10, at least four incidents of building collapses have been reported from Ulhasnagar, Bandra and Malad.

It questioned the BMC lawyer, “On one hand, you (BMC) are thinking of pediatric wards for the third Covid-19 wave in the city and eight children are losing lives in building collapse. What is happening? You can realise the pain we are facing due to the death of innocent children and the same should also be felt by corporators and officials.”

“How many more lives will be lost? Are any demolition orders passed against such buildings or no action is taken? We will have to hold those who are in charge of the Malad area responsible for this and start criminal action. We are shocked. This is nothing but a man-made disaster. First day of monsoon and there is a building collapse. Every monsoon it has to happen. Why can’t it be prevented?” it added.

The HC further said, “We are sorry to say, but in all these corporations, we are failing on planning aspects pertaining to illegal constructions. We are playing with the lives of people. We would want corporations to immediately initiate prosecution. A poor impression is given to the entire country that this is happening in Mumbai and adjoining areas.”

“If you (corporations) are facing any hurdles, we are here to clear them in public interest. The corporators should bring to the notice illegalities in their constituency. Every stakeholder is failing in duty and therefore, people are losing lives. There is no will in corporation officials and if they have it, it is scuttled by higher authorities. This is nothing but lawlessness.”

The bench was informed that the Malad building was constructed on land owned by the collector and that there is dispute on whether BMC as planning authority could have exercised diligence and averted the building collapse.

In view of this, the HC directed the district collector of Mumbai suburb to extend fullest cooperation to the probe and said that help can be sought from state departments to ascertain accountability.

The Commissioner of Inquiry will examine if the owner or occupier of the Malad building had obtained a sanctioned plan by appropriate planning authority and if the authority had issued notices to the owner in case the construction was done without plan.

The Court also asked him to ascertain the approximate age of the building and in case the same was more than 30 years, to find if any structural audit report was submitted by the owners or occupiers.

The former judge will also ascertain on whom the responsibility can be fixed in the present case and which officials were responsible to maintain vigil and supervision of unauthorized and illegal structures in the area.

Moreover, the Commissioner of Inquiry is also directed to find out the number of illegal and unauthorized buildings in the area of the building that collapsed on Wednesday night.

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