Mumbai: The Bombay High Court bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni, on Friday, observed that the building collapse at Malad which claimed 12 lives, including 8 children, was a “man-made disaster” and ordered a judicial enquiry into the incident. The bench told the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) that “the lives of citizens isn't so cheap that they can be left to die in such incidents.”
The bench was hearing a suo motu Public Interest Litigation (PIL) which was taken up after a building collapsed in Bhiwandi city in Thane district last year.
The judges also noted that from May 15 to June 10 2021, there have been four instances of building collapse, two each in Mumbai and Ulhasnagar, killing 24 citizens and injuring 23 others.
"What is happening? How many more lives will be lost?" Chief Justice Datta questioned BMC counsel Anil Sakhare. Sakhare informed the bench that that the land in Malwani belongs to the District Collector, and the civic body doesn't have any control over the said land parcel. Sakhare went on to cite a government resolution claiming that the state has notified that the civic body won't be the planning authority of land parcels that belong to District Collector.
Justice Kulkarni, however, said the BMC would in fact be the planning authority for all the land parcels in the city. During the course of the hearing, additional solicitor general Anil Singh said that 75 per cent of construction in Malwani is illegal.
"Mr Sakhare what is this? If this is the situation, why didn't your (BMC) officers take action earlier? Were they waiting for deaths? We will hold them responsible for the deaths," Justice Kulkarni said.
However, Sakhare continued to cite the GR, to which, CJ Datta said, "Can a government directive override constitutional mandate? Hope you are aware that the Constitution obliges you to work against illegal constructions."
"We are sorry to say but all the corporations seem to be playing with the lives of citizens," the chief justice remarked, adding, "What poor impression is being given to the nation about the city? We say so because building collapse instances are happening only in Mumbai and adjoining areas."
The bench further stated that the civic body has worked well against Covid-19 but wondered why no such proactive steps are taken against illegal constructions. "What are the elected corporators doing? Why can't they point out such constructions? Aren't they obliged or are they supposed to work only during elections?" Justice Kulkarni scolded.
"What lawlessness is this? Citizens are dying," Justice Kulkarni said to which CJ Datta added, "Eight children have died in Malwani. The 12 lives aren't so cheap."
The chief justice said, "This is a manmade disaster and nothing else. Every year we have to see the same thing."
The judges then ordered the Commissioner of Enquiry to conduct a thorough probe into the incident and submit a report by June 23, and also warned all corporations of heavy action if any lives are lost in future.
"Let us clarify to all the corporations if there is any such incident in future and lives are lost we will come down heavily," CJ Datta warned.
The bench while adjourning the matter said it won't hesitate to order special enquiry into the "mechanism" where illegal constructions come up and even corporators and civic officials don't take any action.