The state government found itself painted into a corner on Saturday over allegations that it had failed to act against illegal constructions in the Mumbra region where a building collapsed on Thursday despite the issue being on the boil for the last three years and specific assurances, including one by CM Prithviraj Chavan himself in the last Winter session of the state legislature.
As the toll rose to 75, the government announced two probes into the incident - one by additional chief secretary (revenue) Swadheen Kshatriya who will also suggest how illegal constructions can be prevented, and another by Thane district collector P Velarasu to find out the ownership status of the land.
Activists and Opposition parties pointed out that several complaints were made to the state's urban development department headed by Chavan seeking action in recent months, but to no avail.
Ramesh Patil, Maharshtra Navnirman Sena legislator who represents the area, said he had raised the issue of illegal constructions during the Winter session last December. "Some other MLAs were also vociferous over the issue, and the House was adjourned. Following this, CM Chavan had replied that notices had been issued to all unauthorised buildings in Mumbra, Shil and Kalwa areas and they would be will demolished soon," Patil said.
However, nothing happened, and now 75 people have lost their lives, he lamented.
Patil said he had also written to the CM drawing his attention to the problem of illegal and dangerous buildings in his area, but again no action was taken.
Thane MLA Pratap Sarnaik from the Shiv Sena said the issue of dangerous buildings was being raised for the last three years, but little was done by the authorities.
Chavan was not available for comment but minister of state for urban development Bhaskar Jadhav acknowledged more could have been done. "It is high time we take strict action against those involved in illegal constructions," said Jadhav. He said that often illegal buildings are not demolished on humanitarian grounds so that people don't lose shelter.
Sadly, this was among the reasons why 75 persons lost their lives in Shil-Phata. The builder had lured them to stay there for free or on low rent so that the building would not be demolished.
A top Mantralaya official said action against illegal constructions in Mumbra is next to impossible as the officers get threatening calls from people protecting these structures, especially politicians.