The collapse of a seven-storeyed building in the Shilphata area of Thane district, Maharashtra and the loss of over 70 lives prompted the state government to review the administrative mechanism to tackle illegal buildings in the state.
On April 4, 2013, a seven-storeyed building crashed like a pack of cards killing over 70 lives and injuring at least 60 people (according to the latest reports available) in the Shilphata area which is adjacent to Mumbra in Thane district (northeast of Mumbai).
Causes of building collapse
Everything from the lack of experience of the builder to the connivance of local officials to the use of substandard materials have gone into the unfolding of such a tragedy and civic officials are quick to exchange blames to escape legal action.
Officials from the Thane Municipal Council (TMC) claim that the land on which the building was constructed belonged to the forest authority and hence it does not fall in the corporation's jurisdiction.
The builder has allegedly constructed the building in a period of 2.5-3.0 months by acquiring land at a cheap price as the land is located in a reserved or forest area. The builder has also thrown the safety considerations to the wind by procuring substandard materials like cement and has not taken the ideal mix of sand, cement and mortar for the structure. Some reports indicate that the builder took only two days to set up concrete slabs and did not bother to nourish it with adequate water in order to reduce tanker cost. Neither have the builders given sufficient time for the concrete slab to set. In a matter of less than 14 days, the builder has reportedly built an entire floor.
The builders, identified as Abdul Salim Aziz Siddiqui aka Salim Shaikh and Jamil Ahmed Jalaluddin Shaikh aka Jamil Qureshi, made handsome profit in the process. The builders managed to construct such a building by bribing local police officials and some civic authorities, reports indicate. The builders have not spared anyone from the lower rung of the TMC to the highest official to get clearance for the construction. In order to avoid demolition of the building, some civic body officials facilitated the builders to get the flats booked in a short span of time.
While the irregularities of the civic authorities and the crooked nature of the builders are the direct causes of the tragedy, it must be noted that illegal construction is also a symptom of the acute shortage of affordable housing in Mumbai and the peripheral areas.
According to a report by Cushman & Wakefield (C&W), demand for residential property exceeds supply by at least 1.3 million units in major cities of the country. Some developers are said to be cashing in on the huge demand for housing units through illegal means like land grabbing, flouting construction norms. According to Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, nine out of 10 buildings in Thane's Mumbra region are either illegal or irregular. In Thane alone, the number of such buildings is estimated to be over 1,100.
The state government arrested key officials in the municipal corporation and the police department while also assuring probe into the tragedy. The government also plans to provide an option of redevelopment under 33(5) of the Development Control Regulation (DCR) for illegal but structurally sound buildings throughout the Mumbai metropolitan region (MMR). Currently, the regulation is applicable to only Mhada land in Mumbai.
Although the civic authorities in Mumbai and other areas are reportedly taking action against these structures, more needs to be done to address the root cause of the problem. Following recent amendments to the Maharashtra Regional Town Planning Act, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) appointed 65 designated officers across 24 wards to identify illegal construction or modification in buildings or flats. The Maharashtra Municipal Corporations and Municipal Councils (Amendment) Act aims to wipe out illegal constructions and impose penalty on conniving officials. It is expected that the state government further strengthens the existing laws to crack down on illegal constructions in the state.