An ill-fated incident in Mahim in June changed lawyer Rizwan Merchant’s life. He lost his mother, wife and son in the Aftab Manzil’s collapse. While he takes up a legal tussle with authorities involved, another collapse of a BMC building in Dockyard Road last Friday only seems to have deepened his wound. In a chat with dna’s Eknath Makne, he says he wants to help the Dockyard victims get justice.
The Dockyard building collapse refreshed bad memories of Aftab Manzil’s crash. What was your reaction when you learnt about it (Dockyard episode)?
My first reaction was one of anger, followed by a near visual expression of the pain and agony the families were made to undergo with the loss of their near and dear ones, similar to the one faced by me and other families in the Aftab Manzil crash.
What similarities have you found between the two incidents?
There isn’t much difference in the circumstances and contributory factors that led to the two collapses. In Aftab Manzil, it was Sandeep Bafna who had made alterations, modifications and changes to the structural columns and beams in the basement and ground floor of A-wing of the building, whereas, in the Dockyard Road building collapse, Jain Decorators were responsible for the illegal mezzanine floor with other reported structural alterations, which appear to be one of the contributory factors for the collapse. In both the cases, civic officials have shut their eyes to the complaints made to the BMC over the last five years. I had been making complaints 2008 onwards, regularly, for five years. Likewise, in the Dockyard Road collapse. In both the cases, civic officials have demonstrated dereliction of duty by failing to report and take action on the complaints.
The BMC, unlike in Altaf Manzil’s case, has promptly acted against a developer and its junior-level staff. Do you think it is a face-saving act as no senior decision-making official concerned has been taken to task yet?
The civic body’s action in lodging the complaint was obviously a face-saving act. All seniors, to whom the juniors are required to report, should also be made and held responsible for the acts of negligence which led to the collapse.
You managed to drag the BMC to court after Altaf Manzil’s fall. What do the Dockyard Road victims need to do to set up a case and get justice legally?
Criminal culpability of BMC officials is built up based on the fact that complaints of illegal alterations and addition by Jain Decorators were conveyed to them several times.
Will you help them if they mull legal battle? If yes, in what way?
Yes. I know and understand that it is difficult to fight the system, more particularly a system which is buried in corruption for the last several decades under the protective umbrella of the higher-ups and bureaucrats. However, I am supported by a group of friends and colleagues who have formed a legal forum for fighting for good causes in society. I am supported by these friends from the legal fraternity who are ready to fight gratis for this cause against the system. We will fight for the residents and occupants of the Dockyard Road building to get them justice in every which way that they are entitled to in law.
The Dockyard Road victims have lost everything. They won’t be able to afford legal help.
We know that; we will do it for them for free. We are ready to help all those affected.
Also, there are reported instances of politicos stopping the BMC from evacuating dilapidated structures every monsoon to save votes. They mislead occupants, who fear losing their shelters, making them vulnerable to untoward incidents. Given their actions are not on record, only officials are left to face the heat. Is there any way such politicians can be deterred legally?
Yes, such cases do happen. But such people can be brought in the picture as and when a case develops and not directly.
You seem to have taken up the battle against such incidents as the mission of your life.
My mission includes targeting one and all in the system, those who are the cause for this debacle and this crumbling system as well those who are the beneficiaries.