Repeated hammering on the ground floor led to collapse of Sabzi Mandi building: Probe

The number of casualties might have been higher had three labourers and a contractor, who had been working on breaking the platform, not escaped in time via a narrow lane adjacent to the building. Since Monday is a market holiday, a majority of the shops were closed and the crowd in the neighbourhood was less, the police investigation has revealed.
Two brothers, aged 7 and 12, were killed and a 72-year-old owner of a shop was injured in the building collapse. (Sanjeev Verma/HT)
Two brothers, aged 7 and 12, were killed and a 72-year-old owner of a shop was injured in the building collapse. (Sanjeev Verma/HT)
Updated on Sep 21, 2021 12:03 AM IST
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By Karn Pratap Singh, New Delhi

The breaking of a concrete platform in one of the two shops on the ground floor by repeated hammering led to the collapse of the four-storey building in north Delhi’s Sabzi Mandi last Monday, said senior police officers associated with the investigation of the case.

The number of casualties might have been higher had three labourers and a contractor, who had been working on breaking the platform, not escaped in time via a narrow lane adjacent to the building. Since Monday is a market holiday, a majority of the shops were closed and the crowd in the neighbourhood was less, the police investigation has revealed.

Two brothers, aged 7 and 12, were killed and Ramji Das Aneja, the 72-year-old owner of the second shop, was injured in the building collapse. The brothers were returning home with their mother after attending a tuition class when over half of the building collapsed, crushing them under debris and killing them on the spot.

The 24-year-old owner of the second shop, Mohak Arora, was arrested a day after the collapse and booked for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. He is presently in jail. A private contractor, identified by his first name Jamaal, is absconding. The repair and renovation work of the shop, which was purchased by Arora just 11 days before the collapse, was being carried out under Jamaal’s guidance, said deputy commissioner of police (north) Anto Alphonse.

The building was over 60 years old and the shop, where the three labourers and the contractor were breaking the concrete platform in the absence of a civil engineer and without seeking permission from the municipal agency, was being used to run a dairy and confectionery business for almost three decades, said a senior police officer, associated with the probe.

“We have learned that the platform was used for keeping and selling milk and other dairy products. The flooring level inside the shop was around two-and-a-half-foot below the road outside. Since Arora was planning to start a new business venture, he decided to remove the platform and raise the inner floor to the road’s level,” said the officer.

Another police officer, who asked not to be named, said that the owners of the three upper floors, whose parents had built the structure, had warned the shop owner and the contractor about the weak foundation of the building when he began the renovation work. They had asked them to carry out the repair work only under the supervision of an experienced engineer. Also, they had advised against using an electrical hammer to break the platform, as the occupants of the upper floors felt tremors whenever the tool was used, the second officer said.

“Most likely the tremors caused due to constant hammering of the concrete platform led to the crumbling down of the building. As the structure did not fall all of a sudden, the labourers and the contractor had enough time to escape from the shop. The search and rescue operation continued till late in the night because nobody in the neighbourhood had seen them coming out of the building when it collapsed,” said CL Meena, assistant divisional officer of Delhi Fire Services, who was leading the rescue operation.

Police said that raids are being conducted to nab Jamaal.

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Monday, October 18, 2021