The huge death toll in last month’s Dockyard Road building collapse has woken up Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to the menace of alterations made to buildings, especially to those which are already on their last legs.
The corporation wants life imprisonment for those who damage structural members like pillars, columns and beams that carry the dead load of a building.
Earlier, life imprisonment meant a jail sentence of 14 to 20 years; but an advisory, issued to all states by the Centre in February this year, states that the sentence should span the remainder of a convict’s life.
The BMC’s technical committee probe on the Dockyard Building collapse says the building came down because its pillars were tampered with. However, laws pertaining to unauthorised construction — such as erecting a grill on a balcony without permission or chopping pillars or beams — categorise tampering as an illegal change. These laws include the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning (MRTP) Act, 1966, or the Mumbai Municipal Corporation (MMC) Act, 1888. While erecting a grill doesn’t affect the dead load of a building, chopping columns and beams do. The present provisions relating to illegal constructions recommend a few months’ jail or fine or both.
“But that is not deterring offenders, who are nothing but terrorists who kill several people at one time,” a senior civic official said, requesting anonymity.
“In Mumbai, there are scores of buildings in which ground floors are allotted to run either shops, hospitals or other commercial establishments. In order to gain more space for use, people engage in activities like removing or tampering with columns/beams on the ground floor. This poses a threat to the building’s safety,” the official said.
While he did not specify when the proposal seeking life imprisonment to such offenders would be moved before the state government, the official said that the corporation was in talks with structural engineers who are working out the technical details. “We are also holding talks with the urban development department. Once we prepare a tight proposal, it will be moved before the state government,” he said, adding that it was practically impossible for the civic body to keep a tab on changes made inside a building.
Survivors of the dockyard building crash welcomed the move and insisted that the corporation make a watertight proposal so that perpetrators don’t find a way to escape. “The civic body should also seek the provision of death sentence. Those who engage in such acts pose a threat not only to an individual but also to families. They must be given the strongest punishment possible,” Tushar Pawar, who lost his parents, grandmother and two sisters in the ill-fated incident, said.
He also demanded that action be taken against civic officials if they were ignoring complaints of illegal structural changes. The BMC allotted the ground floor of the four-storey building to Ashok Mehta, owner of Mamamiya Developers, who also worked as a decorator. However, Mehta carried out illegal alterations and damaged the building’s pillars, leading to its collapse. “In our case, despite complaints against the decorator, officials did not take them seriously,” Pawar said.