Around 11.45am, Shankar Lok Apartments in Yashwant Nagar near Vakola Masjid crashed with a substantial chunk falling on neighbouring Catherine chawl Nos 1 and 2, home to 25 families. Only two families lived in Shankar Lok. This was the fourth such incident in the past nine months. "I was standing in the balcony when I saw the third floor coming down," Sunanda Kadam, resident of a neighbouring building, said. "Within few seconds, the entire building crashed like a pack of cards in a whirl of dust."
Given the condition of the building, this was bound to happen, another resident said. "We have repeatedly asked the BMC to demolish the building. But no action was taken because of a legal matter," he said. "See what happened today."
Four people who were pulled out of the rubble are being treated at VN Desai hospital for head and leg injuries.
Shankar Lok, built about 31 years ago, was declared dangerous in 2007. The building posed a threat to the neighbouring chawl as well. In 2007, the BMC issued a stop work notice under section 354 of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act, 1888. Two more notices followed in 2008 and 2010. Most of the families vacated the flats one by one, except two families who continued to live in the ground floor flats.
One of the families was that of a lawyer, Sandhya Sridharan, who stayed with her sister Sudha and brother Satyam. The other occupant, Sanjeev Pandey, managed to escape in the nick of time. BMC officials say Sandhya had been fighting the civic body in the Bombay high court over vacating her flat. "Despite repeated warnings and notices, the family didn't vacate the flat. They entered into a legal battle and in December 2013, the court issued a stay order," Sanjay Deshmukh, additional municipal commissioner, said.
Another civic official said the court, however, made it clear that though they could continue staying in the building, the BMC won't be held responsible if something went wrong. The BMC filed three affidavits, telling the court that if the building collapsed it could damage neighbouring structures. "We were to approach the court again... But things went wrong before we could move," the official said.
The chawl residents were angry with the Sridharans for their "high-handed attitude". "We have been staying in this chawl for the past 40 years. Redevelopment talks were underway. The BMC warned us about Shankar Lok two days ago. But civic officials told us that they could do nothing because the Sridharans were contesting the eviction notice in court. I lost my wife [Chandanben Patel] because of somebody else's fault," Kanti Patel said.
Sandhya Sridharan who lost her sister Sudha in the collapse was in a state of shock and refused to talk to the media.
Ajit Kumar Ambi, assistant municipal commissioner (H-East ward), said the building was in a pathetic condition. "There were cracks in the walls; the beams and columns had corroded," he said. "In October, when we inspected the place, Shridharan filed a criminal case against us."
Local corporator Sunaina Potnis, who lives in an adjacent building, said Sridharan strongly felt that the BMC was trying to usurp her home. "They remained aloof most of the time, without interacting with any of their neighbours."
At the spot, MP Priya Dutt said she would try to help the affected. Mayor Sunil Prabhu visited the site and said a case of culpable homicide should be registered against the lawyer for delaying the demolition process. "I will talk to municipal commissioner Sitaram Kunte," he said.
Apart from Sudha Sridharan, 32, and Chandanben Patel, 50, the other deceased are Ayush Pardhi, 5, Aditya Pardhi, 7, Rajashri Pardhi, 30, Sundarabai Pardhi, 66 and Louis Bobetura Nonas, 60.