Malad Wall Collapse Was Avoidable: Independent Probe Report

A joint fact finding team stated that the Malad wall collapse was a state-induced disaster. 

Updated
India
3 min read

Video Editor: Ashish MacCune

The wall which collapsed in Mumbai’s Malad area on 1 July, claiming 29 lives, was a state-induced disaster, as per a fact finding team’s investigation into the incident. The joint team, consisting of activists, students of TISS and laywers, found that while heavy rainfall did contibute to the disaster, other factors which led to it were man-made and “quite obviously foreseeable and avoidable.”

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“Despite the precarious conditions of the tenements, there was no assessment of the risk of rainfall-induced events on the settlement nor were any measures undertaken to alleviate the risk; Instead, a poorly designed wall was built between the settlement and the reservoir plot without understanding the site topography and natural drainage patterns, endangering the settlement even more.”
Excerpt from the report

The report states that one of the key reasons that led to the loss of lives and homes of the residents of Pimpripada and Ambedkar Nagar, was the delay in rehabilitation. Despite the Bombay High Court in 1997 ordering the state government to rehabilitate the residents within 18 months, nothing was done.

“The residents of Pimpripada and Ambedkar Nagar should have been rehabilitated by as early as 1999. Had this been done, the houses would not have existed on the site in the first place and it is the negligence and inaction by the State Government and Forest Department that have failed to fulfill their responsibilities of rehabilitation as per the Order dated 7 May 1997.”
Excerpt from the report

The report found the state government in contempt of the court order.

Poor Planning & Designing

At around 11:45 pm on 1 July, the 2.3 km-long wall which had been constructed by BMC collapsed at two locations: Pimpripada and Ambedkar Nagar. The two points were about a 100 meters apart. The report pointed out that the wall built around the reservoir was meant to be a physical and visual barrier, a means to hide the settlements beyond it. It wasn’t designed to resist lateral pressure of the soil when ground water changed on both sides.

“To make matters worse, the wall was poorly designed, in that it did not have any outlets or holes to allow surface runoff – which would have released the pressure of water that logged behind it. The only outlet for water was a culvert under the asphalt, which was most likely clogged by the vegetation that was washed away and carried by the flow.” 
Excerpt from the report

The report also criticises the reason behind the wall being built in the first place. Stating that, “The 4-meter-high concrete wall was a device to shut out of sight and contain the dwellers, and little else; it has been built as infrastructure of containment, not protection.”

Delay in Emergency Services Affects Rescue Ops

The report put together by representatives of civil society organisations, independent volunteers and students has taken documents, court orders and interviews of survivors into account. Many residents have stated that emergency services, including the fire brigade and the ambulances arrived late. Families had to transport the affected in rickshaws and other two wheelers.

“From the interactions with the residents during the site visit, the fact-finding team noted that no warnings had been issued by the local authorities to the affected residents prior to the floods. Moreover, even after reporting of the incident, the emergency services were not activated and provided effectively, leaving the affected residents to their own resources.”
Excerpt from the report

“Even the ambulance services and fire department were not equipped to access the area and commence relief and rescue work in a timely manner,” it added.

Recommendations From the Panel

With hundreds of families now homeless, the primary concern is shelter. The report recommends immediate rehabilitation for all families who lost their homes and specifies that the government must ensure the accommodation is ‘safe and fit for human habitation’.

It also asks for adequate cash compensation to be given to the families of the injured, and to those who have lost their property. Along with this, the report recommends medical support and psychological aid for the affected.

Along with immediate measures, it also notes that authorities need to take adequate steps to initiate inquiry and rehabilitate residents in the area for the long term and in keeping with the Bombay High Court’s order.

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