Press Conference on the Interim findings of the joint Fact-Finding Team on the collapse of MCGM Wall and loss of lives, homes of residents of Pimpripada and Ambedkar Nagar in Malad East, Mumbai
10th July 2019
On the midnight of 1 July 2019, following heavy rainfall, a 2.3 km boundary wall constructed by the MCGM to protect their Malad reservoir collapsed at two places, in the localities of Ambedkar Nagar and Pimpripada. The water which had accumulated behind the wall, burst into the neighbourhood, washing away entire homes. The calamity has claimed 29 lives so far and over 130 were reported injured.
This interim report looks into the lapses on the part of the administration which could have prevented the disaster or at least mitigated its effects, the current conditions of the people affected and recommends a set of immediate relief measures; short term actions and long term measures.
Section 1 of the report provides background and context to the incident. As early as 1997, the Bombay High Court had ordered the MCGM to relocate the residents, asking the latter to pay Rs 7000 as rehabilitation fees, which many paid. The promised rehabilitation, however, never came. Most of the residents hail from working-class backgrounds and their homes are deprived of basic services like drainage systems, roads or regular supplies of water and electricity, despite the court ordering the provision of basic services till rehabilitation is carried out.
Section 2 describes the events on the night of the incident. While the fire brigade was contacted at 12:14 am, residents maintain that it was only in the early hours of the morning that they arrived. Similarly, there seem to be conflicting claims about when the ambulances arrived; residents agree however that they were inadequate in number – help from neighbours, rather than emergency services, proved crucial in getting the injured out and into hospitals. Many critically injured were forced to turn to unwilling auto-rickshaws and were rejected by private hospitals before receiving admission in public hospitals. where they were declared dead.
Section 3 delves into the aftermath, detailing the loss of life and property, the range of injuries suffered by the residents and threat to livelihoods they are currently facing. In the absence of any temporary shelters, the residents are rendered homeless and are completely dependent on friends, relatives, and well-wishers for food, shelter, clothes and transportation. Many injured have reported choosing to stay in hospitals refusing to sign discharge papers; with their relatives sleeping in the hospital corridors. Many also continue to stay in whatever remains of their homes during the day for fear that they would lose out on their claim to rehabilitation should the government come for a survey. Electricity services previously erratic are now disrupted and the risk of water-borne and vector-borne diseases have heightened.
Section 4 inquires into the causes behind the incident. The disaster could have been entirely averted if not for the gross delay in rehabilitation on the part of MCGM (the HC had given them 18 months’ time in 1997). Further, the collapse of the wall is a direct consequence of its construction not taking into account the topography of the site and its poor design in general. Lacking any outlets or holes to allow storm runoff, the water accumulated behind the wall owing to the slope of the ground, filtered into the soil and started weakening its foundation till the pressure of water accumulated proved sufficient to breach the wall.
MCGM’s continuing failure in ensuring disaster preparedness or in implementation of its disaster management plan is also discussed in detail. Its Disaster Management Unit did not issue warnings issued to the residents or provide services/make interim arrangements for amenities after the incident. The emergency services did not reach the site on time or provide an effective response. In fact, MCGM only set up its medical camps on the second day.
Section 5 consists of recommendations of the team. The team urges immediate rehabilitation to nearby available PAP tenements (Kandivali) of families which have lost their homes and strongly advise against their relocation to Mahul, a place which the National Green Tribunal declared ‘unfit for human habitation’ four years ago, and initiation of a process for rehabilitation of all eligible residents without delay. It suggests setting up mechanisms to allow residents who lost crucial documents to report their loss/get assistance in reissuance/recovery and recommends that the government enable schemes to support the long term medical needs of affected residents as well as provide mental health support to residents in need.
Lastly, the report emphasizes the need for inquiry and investigation into MCGM’s disaster preparedness, resulting in punitive action against those responsible. Concrete measures should be taken to ensure that such incidents are never repeated.
Members of the Fact-Finding Team:
● Bilal Khan, Activist : Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, NAPM
● Brinelle D’souza, Academic and Activist: ICWM, PUCL
● Hussain Indorewala, Academic and Urban Researcher: KRVIA, CSA
● Lara Jesani, Lawyer : People’s Union for Civil Liberties
● Mukta Manya, Student: Tata Institute of Social Sciences
● Pani Haq Samiti members
● Priyanjali Jha, Student: Jesus and Mary College, Delhi University
● Sitaram Shelar, Activist: Centre for Promoting Democracy
● Sreeshreshtha Nair, Student: NM College
● Supreeth Ravish, Student: Tata Institute of Social Sciences
● Kalamuddin Idrisi, Activist: Habitat and Livelihood Welfare Association
● Vaishali Janarthanan, working in Child Rights Advocacy