Trauma, Memories & Search For The Dead: Survivors Recall Kurla Building Collapse
At least 19 people were killed and 23 others were injured when a building collapsed in Kurla's Naik Nagar Society.
The emergency room at Mumbai’s Rajawadi hospital has only 12 beds. While most are empty, 20-year-old Manish Yadav occupies one. Injury marks are scattered on his body – a gash on his leg, bruises on his face near the eye and his cheek, and a cut on his lip.
“We told the maalik (employer) multiple times that this building is not safe but he paid no heed,” said Yadav, a construction worker, as he recalled the horror of Monday night.
On Monday, 27 June, he sat at home – a dingy room on the third floor of the 'D' building in Naik Nagar Housing Society, a cluster of four buildings, in Mumbai’s suburban Kurla. Around 11.30 pm, the four-storey building where he lived with his 11 co-workers, collapsed.
At least 19 people died, including 11 of Yadav’s co-workers.
“It’s over, I don’t want to live in this city anymore. I will take the next train home when I am discharged from the hospital. I don't think I'll ever be able to forget what happened," said Yadav. Home is Hanumanganj in Uttar Pradesh’s Prayagraj district, which he left for Mumbai in 2019 in search of work.
Yadav is not alone. Outside the hospital in Ghatkopar sat a four-year-old boy unaware of his father’s death in the collapse. In another corner of the hospital, a relative wondered how to break the news of the death of a 50-year-old man to his wife and child, both in hospital. This is their story.
What Happened on 27 June?
The four-storey building in Kurla’s Naik Nagar Housing Society, which collapsed on 27 June night, was 47 years old. It is pertinent to note that in 2016, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), had declared this building as a “C1” category structure, which meant that it’s “unfit to live in.” Subsequently, water and power connections were cut.
Months later, however, the building was put under the “C2B” category – which means “the building need not be demolished and can be repaired.” The structural audit report was done by Sachdeva and Associates, an authorised audit firm.
On Monday night, the building located towards the north end, collapsed, killing 19, and injuring 23 people. In the rubble lay a lifetime of memories – books, kitchen supplies, and clothes, among other things.
The rescue operation which lasted for over 75 hours saw teams from the fire department, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), and the BMC working together.
An FIR has been registered against landlords and flat owners in the building under IPC sections pertaining to culpable homicide not amounting to murder, among others. As per the FIR, at least four flat owners rented out their flats even though the building had been declared as dilapidated by BMC, the civic body.
"Despite the BMC declaring the building unfit to live in, some flat owners, including Rajni Rathod, Kishore Chavan, Balkrishna Rathod and Dilip Vishwas, rented the flats to tenants," a Mumbai Police official said on Wednesday, 29 June. Vishwas has been arrested.
'Found His Body After 50 Hours'
At the Rajawadi hospital in Ghatkopar, 75-year-old Bijal Popal, who lives in the chawl next to the building, recalled the unforgettable thudding sound that shook the neighbourhood on Monday night.
“We saw the building come down in front of our eyes. Everything was gone within seconds. My sister-in-law, her husband and their son lived there, and while the mother and child escaped somehow, my sister-in-law’s husband Ramesh Bodiya was on the staircase and didn’t make it,” said Popal.
Popal also added that the Bodiya family was going to evacuate the house one day later, on 29 June, as the BMC deadline was approaching.
Declaring the building "unfit to live", the BMC had asked people to vacate their homes by 30 June.
His sister-in-law’s husband, 50-year-old Ramesh Bodiya, was nowhere to be found for at least 50 hours.
“His body was in the rubble. I knew he was no more, it had been 50 hours. I still took him to the hospital,” said Popal. On Wednesday, 29 June, Popal split his time between the hospital where his sister-in-law and nephew are admitted, and the crematorium where Bodiya’s last rites were conducted.
High Risk, Cheap Rents
The Naik Nagar Housing Society in Mumbai’s Kurla, where the building that collapsed was located, has plenty old and dilapidated buildings in a row. Most of these buildings are surrounded by chawls, which are large buildings divided into many separate tenements, offering cheap, basic accommodation.
After Monday's incident, the BMC asked residents of the buildings to vacate, and two days after the incident, the buildings wore an empty look. Those who live in the neighbourings chawls, however, are worried about the fate of these empty buildings.
“We all saw the collapse, and there is a similar building that overlooks my house in the building. What if that comes down some day?” asked Mayur Rajguru, 28, a resident of one of these chawls.
He said that despite the risk, the reason many people lived in that building was cheap rents. “Flat owners gave these houses on rent for as low as Rs 5,000 a month.”
Relief and Rehabilitation
The Maharashtra state government on 28 June announced that Rs five lakh ex-gratia will be given to kin of the deceased in the case. The Central government will also provide Rs two lakh to the families of the victims from the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund (PMNRF).
Outside the Rajawadi Hospital, however, little Harsh has no idea about the tragedy or what this relief fund is for. The four-year-old asks his grandmother, Rajshri Yedke, 46, about his father Ajinkya Gaekwad.
In the collapse, Harsh’s father Ajijnkya, and his paternal grandparents Prahlad Gaekwad (65) and Lilabai Gaekwad (60), died. “My daughter Deepali is inside the hospital. She and her husband Ajinkya were separated but he took care of them financially,” said Rajshri, who is employed as a domestic help.
Harsh, in the meantime, keeps asking her to dial Ajinkya’s phone number. “What should I tell him?” she asked, as he broke down.
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.