As many as 61 people were killed and 31 injured in a building collapse in India’s financial capital Mumbai, as two days of rescue work ended today, Vijay Khabale Patil, a spokesman for the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai.

The 30-year old, five-story building, listed for urgent repair, caved in early Friday morning, when most of its 115 residents were inside, Patil said in a telephone interview. Authorities asked residents to vacate the building in April, he said.

Mumbai has seen at least a dozen building collapses in the past three years, according to a report in Daily News and Analysis. Many of these have been caused by unauthorized construction, Patil said.

“I was woken up by the loud noises after the collapse,” said Suyash Jhadhav, a resident of a neighboring building. “I felt that something might happen to our building since both buildings are close.”

As rescue work proceeded, hundreds of people gathered near the site of the mishap in a low-rise densely populated neighborhood adjacent to the harbor in southern Mumbai, cheering survivors and lamenting deaths.

Police arrested a businessman who had his office and a warehouse on the ground floor of the building, suspecting illegal renovation work done by him may have weakened the structure and caused the collapse, Patil said.

Investigative Panels

The city’s municipal authority has formed two panels to investigate and survey 56 buildings in the city that need urgent repair, Patil said. The panels will submit their reports in 45 days.

“Those that can be repaired will be repaired; others will be demolished,” he said.

That number may be grossly understated, said Ramashrya Yadav, joint chief executive officer at Orbit Corp. Ltd., a property developer in the city.

“It’s an appallingly low number and is a result of the administration’s myopic and faulty methods of assessment,” Yadav said in a phone interview. “They just look at the age of building, which is ridiculous. A more rigorous audit that includes quality check is needed.”

He said almost 400 buildings in the city are unfit for habitation and must be redeveloped.
–Editors: James Kraus, Hellmuth Tromm