Panchayat officials could have prevented wall collapse deaths

The collapse of a wall in a construction site in CK Palya off Bannerghatta road on February 2, which killed five labourers and injured four, has once again proved how easily government sanctions can be obtained for any poor-quality building.

A Citizen Matters investigation has shown that the lives of Parbhu Yadav, 40, Sanjith Sharma, 25, Raju Podar, 60, Jugesh Thathi, 40, and Raja, 60, all from Biharm could have been saved. Preliminary observations after the tragedy had already indicated flaws in construction including poor quality of cement mix, poor foundation and lack of cement pillars to support the nearly 30-feet-tall 120-feet-wide brick wall.

Nine workers were trapped under the 30-feet-high 120-feet-long wall that collapsed. Pic: Navya P K

The building plan itself seems to have been sanctioned off-handedly by the grama panchayat (GP) and was not subjected to any technical inspections. As the area is a revenue land outside BBMP limits, GP is supposed to sanction the plan for the building. But this can be done only after a report is submitted by the taluk panchayat (TP), as GP does not have the technical personnel to approve plans or check construction quality.

"We forward all applications to Anekal TP office. Engineers there will hold inspections and give us a report. Based on the report, GP can decide on whether the sanction can be given," say officials at Mantapa GP, under which the building comes.

Migrant labourers killed

Parbhu Yadav, 40
Sanjith Sharma, 25
Raju Podar, 60
Jugesh Thathi, 40
Raja, 60

All the five were from Khagaria district of Bihar.

In this case, Anekal TP officials say that they were not even informed about the building. Mantapa GP had sanctioned the plan and given building license to the owner Srinivas Reddy in March 2010. M Puttanna, Executive Officer at Anekal TP, says, "We do not have any records of this building at all. It seems that the GP gave sanction directly. TP engineers also hold periodic quality checks on buildings, which also did not happen in this case," he says.

TP has now submitted a report to the zilla panchayat (ZP) office regarding the sanctions issued by panchayat. "ZP will decide on further course of action," Puttanna says.

At the GP office, the President S C Srinivas and Secretary D N Basavaraj who had sanctioned the building are not in charge anymore. The newly appointed officials say that they have no information about why or how the building was sanctioned. When Citizen Matters approached the panchayat office, it did not even have copies of the property’s land conversion documents (changing the land use from agricultural to industrial), without which the sanction could not have been given.

"None of the offices had the documents regarding the site. The occupancy and land conversion documents were produced before the police by Reddy himself," says K Vishwanath, Sub Inspector at Bannerghatta police station.

N C Venkatraju, Tahsildar at Anekal taluk office says that the building itself was illegal as it came under the green belt area (where land should be used for agricultural purpose only), but is not sure of this. While Reddy had converted part of his property – 3 acres and 4 guntas – for industrial use in 1989, Venkatraju says that he had construction was undertaken in the sites which were not converted as well. Officials are now holding a survey to determine whether the collapsed wall belonged to the converted land or the agricultural land.

The taluk office had sent a notice to Reddy in September 2010, saying that there were 21 illegal sheds in agricultural plots and that if Reddy did not vacate these properties within 15 days of the notice, the buildings would be demolished at Reddy’s own expense.

State Human Rights Commission Chairman S R Nayak (second from left) at the site a few hours after the wall collapsed. Pic: Navya P K

"The notice was issued as buildings were constructed in plots that were not converted for industrial use. We had noticed those buildings while verifying documents to check encroachments – about 1700 acres of land in the taluk is green belt area. Two hearings were held with Reddy after this, but the case is not closed yet," says Venkatraju.

"We will get clarity about this after the survey. A report will be submitted to the Deputy Commissioner (DC) (Urban) on this on Tuesday," he says.

The Building Quality Task Force from the state’s PWD (Public Works Department) will submit a report on building quality. Chargesheet will be filed against Srinivas Reddy and project contractor Raju only after the report comes, says Dr Mahesh, Bangalore Rural Superintendent of Police. FIRs have been filed under Section 304 (causing death by negligence) against the culprits, both of whom are on interim bail now.

"It will be a long procedure. Construction of the building has been stopped," says Dr Mahesh, Bangalore Rural SP.

Of the four injured labourers, two are now recovering at NIMHANS and the third person is in Sanjay Gandhi Hospital where he recently underwent a spinal cord surgery. One person who had sustained minor injuries was treated and discharged from hospital on the day of the accident itself.

S R Nayak, Chairman of State Commission for Human Rights (SHRC), says that compensation for injured persons and dependants of deceased will be decided within a week. SHRC has ordered DC (Urban) and Labour Commissioner to produce reports on plan sanctions and labour conditions respectively. "Compensation will be decided on the basis of these reports. DC’s office has been asked to take care of all expenses for now," says Nayak. The state government has already declared compensation of one lakh rupees for dependants of deceased and Rs 25,000 for the injured persons.

"This incident could have been prevented if the builder had followed norms, used good quality materials and if the authorities had controlled these violations," says Nayak.

About Navya P K 241 Articles
Navya P K is a former senior staff journalist at Citizen Matters, and a freelance journalist based in Kerala.

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