Mumbai’s Hussaini building collapse: Saifee Burhani trust lawyer blames cops, BMC, Mhada
Lawyer calls investigation fraud; the dilapidated structure collapsed in 2017, killing 33 peopleUpdated: Mar 07, 2018 12:30 IST
A day after a top Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (SBUT) official was arrested in connection with the Bhendi Bazaar building collapse, which killed 33 people last year, its defence lawyer put the responsibility squarely on the police, civic body and Maharashtra Housing Development Authority (Mhada).
Shoaib Wajihuddin, 55, SBUT’s head of tenant management, was produced before Sewri metropolitan court on Tuesday.
Terming the investigation “fraud”, defence attorney Mihir Gheewala said: “Is the police investigation done to safeguard Mhada and BMC officials? The police are putting blame on an individual who is working for the upliftment of his community.”
Seeking police custody of Wajihuddin, an officer attached with JJ Marg police station said they are yet to take statements of witnesses, a few relatives of survivors and those living around the collapsed building. The prosecution told the court there is a likelihood of more names cropping up, and so they need police custody.
Gheewala went on to corner the police over the stated reasons and said, “The arrest has been made on Monday, while the building collapsed on August 31 last year. Why do they [police] need his custody to record survivors’ statements now?”
The defence, in their application, submitted that Mhada and SBUT had issued notices to tenants of Hussaini building, apart from five letters to those who died. The tenants and occupants responded on December 16, 2013, stating, they have “decided to stay here and not to shift till the site is actually needed for redevelopment,” the advocate told the court.
The 117-year-old structure was deemed dilapidated by the Mhada first on March 28, 2011, subsequent to which it served an eviction notice to the tenants. Five of the families vacated the premise following this notice.
SBUT has undertaken a redevelopment project for the old structures. An SBUT official said, “Since the project was undertaken, we have shifted around 2,500 families to transit homes. Following the August incident, 500 families have been shifted.”
The police told the court, “It was the duty and responsibility of SBUT to vacate the premises. Wajihuddin, on whom the duty falls, failed to discharge it and thus is culpable.”
Magistrate SN Shetty remanded Wajihuddin in police custody till March 9.
SBUT official was arrested hours after court directed police to file report
The JJ Marg police arrested 55-year-old Shoaib Hashimi Wajihuddin in connection with the Bhendi Bazaar building collapse on Monday, a few hours after the Bombay high court asked the police to submit its investigation report on the incident.
The HC was hearing a writ petition filed by Sayyed Sabir Usman, whose sister, brother-in-law and their two children were killed in the mishap.
Usman, the owner Usman S Mithaiwala, a sweet shop in Mira Road, had filed a petition before the HC seeking transfer of investigation to the Central Bureau of Investigation or state CID or any other competent investigating agency.
Sayyed lost his 37-year-old sister Reshma, brother-in-law Zafar and the couple’s 18-year-old son Zama and daughter aged 13 named Fatima in the building collapse.
On Monday, the HC bench instructed the JJ Marg police officer to submit the report of investigations conducted so far during the next hearing on March 13.
In his petition, Usman submitted that no FIR was registered by the police until September 13 last year – almost 14 days from the incident. Considering the magnitude and seriousness of the incident, the delay in registering the FIR is suspicious to say the least.
The petitioner also stated “he has reasonable apprehension that the police machinery, perhaps over-awed by the clout and influence of SBUT and its officials, are likely to scuttle the entire investigation, name a few less significant executives of the trust as accused, letting the big fish go scot free and conducting an eye wash to conclude the investigation in one way or the other”.
As per the petition, on May 27, 2016, Mumbai Repairs and Reconstructions Board (MBRRB) issued NOC to SBUT to demolish 64 structures including the Hussaini Manzil building. “None of the 64 buildings in the cluster redevelopment projects which are in dilapidated condition because of high risk to the lives of the residents have been demolished by SBUT till date,” the petition states.
The petition claims that SBUT allowed illegal structural changes on the ground floor of by a sweet shop owner and let occupant construct large commercial ovens on the ground floor.
AN SBUT official, on condition of anonymity, said, “We are unaware of the illegal alterations (if any) made by the sweet shop owner as it was sublet by the tenant without the landlord consent,” an SBUT official said.