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Ghatkopar building collapse: BMC says alterations by Shiv Sena’s Sunil Shitap to blame

Sunil Shitap accused of “disregard for law”, “greed to grab public land”; Mumbai’s civic chief recommends “exemplary punishments”

mumbai Updated: Aug 24, 2017 09:05 IST
Tanushree Venkatraman
Tanushree Venkatraman
Hindustan Times
Ghatkopar building collapse,Shiv Sena,Ajoy Mehta
Siddhi Sai building in Ghatkopar collapsed on July 25.(HT)

An inquiry by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has termed Shiv Sena member Sunil Shitap responsible for carrying out the unauthorised work that led Siddhi Sai building in Ghatkopar to collapse on July 25.

The report, submitted to civic chief Ajoy Mehta on Wednesday, has recommended strict action against Shitap, accusing him of “disregard for law” and “greed to grab public land”. The report has also named “negligent” Ghatkopar ward officials and recommended a preliminary inquiry into their actions.

Mehta, in his written recommendations on the report, has ordered “exemplary punishments” against the accused. He said all of Shitap’s illegal constructions must be demolished and the committee’s 13 recommendations must be implemented in six months.

“We will ensure that the strictest action is meted out to the accused,” he said. A senior civic official said the BMC will explore “options” for Shitap’s punishment.

A structural consultant appointed by the BMC to conduct the inquiry said the walls on the ground floor were “indiscriminately removed” and unauthorised repairs were ongoing even minutes before the collapse. The structure “would have survived longer, had it not been tampered with indiscriminately”, read the report. He added that overexposed RCC columns at the ground level triggered the collapse. Officials found a mechanical hammer at the spot.

Shitap is currently in judicial custody. The Shiv Sena has distanced itself from him.

“This is a big step for all of us fighting for justice. We are satisfied with the report and hope that Shitap is severely punished,” said Binita Ramchandani, whose parents had a flat on the fourth floor.

Shitap is said to have owned three flats on the ground floor and one on the first. He allegedly wanted to convert a maternity home run by Dr Padma V Khade into a restaurant. The report says work started even before Khade could vacate the premises.

The report added that the then medical officer of health (MOH) issued a certification to the maternity home without proper documents and the current MOH and sanitary inspector of the N ward Ghatkopar also cancelled the maternity home’s registration, acting on Shitap’s wife Swati’s request. Swati contested the 2017 BMC elections as a Sena candidate. It also suggested an inquiry into the actions of the ward’s executive engineer and the staff of the building and factory department, N ward, for not taking action against the unauthorised work.

Tampering with structures should be a cognisable offence: Civic body

In its report on the Ghatkopar building collapse, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) committee made 13 recommendations to prevent such a disaster from recurring.

Civic chief Ajoy Mehta received the report on Wednesday and ordered that the recommendations be implemented within six months.

One of the committee’s most significant recommendations is that tampering with a structure be made a cognisable offence by amending the Indian Penal Code and the Maharashtra Regional Town Planning Act.

“The occupant will be fully responsible for any tampering done to any of the building’s structures. Any repairs must be done under the strict supervision of structural consultant,” read the report.

With an increase in the number of redevelopment projects in the city, the committee has also recommended creating a separate cell to examine disputes related to dilapidated buildings.

Other recommendations include creating a software to track structural audits of buildings built more than 30 years ago, standardising structural audit reports, making it mandatory to obtain a no-objection certificate from the society to carry out repairs and creating a new post of technical assistant to check illegal alterations and additions to structures in every ward.

Sunil Shitap — the prime accused in the case — appointed an interior designer, whose qualifications have been questioned, as the load-bearing columns of the building were tampered with.

As HT had reported on Monday, the BMC is likely to make arrangements for the registration of interior decorators and designers.

BMC officials said they did not receive any complaints from the residents of Siddhi Sai regarding the repairs.

They thus plan to come up with awareness campaigns to help citizens register complaints and make them aware of the importance of conducting structural audits.

First Published: Aug 24, 2017 09:05 IST