At least 12 people were killed in Mumbai after a five-story building collapsed on Tuesday morning in the working-class suburb of Ghatkopar. Local officials said the forty-year-old building, known as the Saidarshan, was home to 12 families, with around three to four families occupying each floor. The ground floor of the building also contained a nursing home, which was vacant at the time of the collapse. On Tuesday, the chief fire officer of the Mumbai Fire Brigade, P.S. Rahangdale, said a search and rescue operation was ongoing, with hundreds of first responders, workers, and neighbors digging for people trapped among the debris. By Tuesday evening, around 23 people had been pulled out of the rubble, including the deceased.
According to witnesses, the building began to shake before its collapse at around 10:45 a.m. local time. Victims were taken to the nearby Shantiniketan Hospital, where tearful relatives waited to discover if their family members were still alive. A public relations officer for the Greater Mumbai Municipal Corporation told CNN that the cause of the collapse would likely be known “in a day or two,” while the Maharashtra Chief Minister has said a full report will be available within 15 days. In his conversations with reporters, Mumbai Mayor Vishwanath Mahadeshwar said he had ordered an investigation into the incident and planned to punish those responsible.
In all likelihood, the collapse is attributable to India’s low-quality infrastructure, which often lacks the proper safety standards and on-site supervision. In May, at least two dozen people were killed when a 90-foot wall collapsed on a group of wedding guests in Rajasthan. Less than a year earlier, a bridge connecting Mumbai to the state of Goa crumbled, sending two buses and multiple cars into the river below. At least 14 bodies were recovered from the scene, with officials blaming the collapse on the bridge’s colonial-era construction. In 2013, India witnessed one the deadliest collapses in its history after the fall of a building in Thane killed more than 70 people.
Beyond age and lack of oversight, much of India’s crumbling infrastructure is the result of political corruption. The New York Times reports that the nation’s infrastructure projects are often placed in the hands of politicians’ relatives or associates, who lack the proper qualifications. In April of last year, the collapse of an overpass on a busy intersection in Kolkata, which killed two dozen people, led to the arrest of four officials. It was later revealed that the cousin of local politician Sanjay Bakshi had been contracted to work on the project around the same time that Bakshi’s political party assumed power.
On Tuesday, residents of the Saidarshan blamed the building’s collapse on renovations being done to the ground floor nursing home, which is reportedly owned by Sunil Sitap, a local politician from the Shiv Sena party. While Mayor Mahadeshwar—also a member of the Shiv Sena party—has denied the connection, a member of the Congress Party told The Hindustan Times that the property belongs to Sitap, who planned to replace the nursing home with a guest house. Multiple Indian news outlets have since reported that Sitap is being questioned by the Mumbai Police on suspicion of culpable homicide.