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Bombay HC orders judicial inquiry into Malwani house collapse

The Bombay high court (HC) came down heavily on civic corporations and elected representatives for allowing unauthorised structures to come up in their jurisdictions, and ordered a judicial inquiry into the Malwani building collapse that resulted in loss of 12 lives, including eight children
By KAY Dodhiya, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON JUN 12, 2021 12:01 AM IST

The Bombay high court (HC) came down heavily on civic corporations and elected representatives for allowing unauthorised structures to come up in their jurisdictions, and ordered a judicial inquiry into the Malwani building collapse that resulted in loss of 12 lives, including eight children. The court also warned that if there are more instances of building collapses, it would hold the corporations responsible.

The court observations came in light of four building collapses reported in Ulhasnagar and Mumbai in the past one month, which led to deaths of 24 persons and left 23 others injured. The court also sought to know from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) as to the mechanism by which such unauthorised constructions come up and the extra-legal processes employed for the same.

On Friday, a four-judge bench comprising chief justice Dipankar Datta, justice AA Sayyed, justice SS Shinde and justice Prasanna Varale was hearing a suo motu public interest litigation (PIL) instituted last year in light of the lockdown and pandemic. The bench said as the current situation was unclear it was extending the interim orders against demolition, eviction and dispossession till July 9.

The bench had also taken note of the building collapses in Mumbai and neighbouring Ulhasnagar and sought the presence of all civic corporations in the Mumbai Metropolitan Regio.

In the afternoon session, the chief justice along with justice Girish Kulkarni questioned the civic authorities, especially BMC and Ulhasnagar Municipal Corporation (UMC), as to how the four buildings — two in each corporation limits — had collapsed, resulting in death of 24 persons.

“The issue of the building collapse and the deaths pain us and we want this to stop. Eight innocent children lost their lives at Malad,” observed the bench.

The court took note that residents of dilapidated structures were taking refuge using the HC’s interim order which stayed all demolitions, eviction and dispossession of properties, and said that if the civic authorities faced problems in getting dilapidated buildings, that needed immediate demolition, vacated they could always approach the court and HC would pave the way for them.

Taking exception to the two collapses in Mumbai, the bench asked BMC as to why it was not able to curb such instances while it had taken appreciable measures to combat the Covid pandemic.

Chief Justice Datta then questioned senior counsel Anil Sakhare about the mechanism or dashboard which BMC follows while stopping mushrooming of unauthorised structures. He stated that the civic authorities along with elected representatives of each ward should be held answerable for such incidents and said the HC would initiate judicial inquiries to unmask those guilty of allowing unauthorised structures to come up.

On the suggestion by amicus curiae advocate Sharan Jagtiani, the court ordered a judicial inquiry into the building collapse and said it would name the court commissioner in the order.

The bench also sought to know the modus operandi adopted by the people responsible for the unauthorised structures and asked the state to respond on its query on how a legislation was passed to regularise illegal and unauthorised structures at Ulhasnagar, and posted hearing of the replies after two weeks.

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