Lalita Park Tragedy: Aftermath


By Samir Alam

Anuj Verma can’t sleep at night.

He worries that another building in his neighborhood will collapse.

 

He’s lived in the Lalita Park area near Laxmi Nagar all his life and the night of 15th November he says will be scarred in his mind forever. That was the night that a five story building collapsed, killing 73 people and displacing over 200 people in just three minutes.

“It felt like three hours,” says Anuj, “First I felt the trembling andwhen I stepped outside to see what was happening I noticed a cloud of dust in the streetand heard the screams of people.”

In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy it was a race against the clock for the survival of those who were buried. In the next three days a few more people were recovered alive, the rest were just bodies. The injured survivors were taken to government hospitals all across the city while those who were fortunate enough not to be in the building or not gravely injured found refuge in the local community center.

But having lost their home and belongings, they are left searching for answers; answers that the government is failing to answer. The survivors are complaining of the increased inconvenience due to the actions of the municipal authorities. The very actions that are suppose to save them.

“The reason this building fell was because it was not built to sustain five floors,” says Narendra Sharma, a retired engineer living in Lalita Park for over 20 years, “The basement was flooded and it further weakened the foundation. It was bound to fall.”

In response to this finding the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has issued eviction notices to 38 buildings that they fear might also suffer from the same problem. The eviction has been issued on the basis of a preliminary inspection by the executive engineers of the MCD.

This decision is forcing thousands of residents out on to the streets with barely any notice. Sharma says that the preliminary decision is based just on which buildings have basements. Since it was due to a flooded basement that the overloaded structure collapsed the MCD officials are launching a blanket order for the evacuation of all buildings with basements. However, many localities believe that this is simply a political over reaction. So it seems that the conflicts between the Congress center and the BJP municipal corporation are leaving hundreds homeless in the capital.

In order to validate their findings the MCD is calling in an expert team from IIT-Roorkee to audit the buildings for structural integrity but till the team arrives thousands of people will become homeless. “This is madness”, says Rohan Kapur, another resident, “the government has made such a huge decision without making any arrangements for the people.” As Kapur tells it, most of the nearby residents in the condemned buildings are laborers whose income doesn’t leave much for a rainy day. And as the dictates of the MCD pours onto the lives of the Lalita VIhar residents even the upper crust of the neighborhood hasn’t been spared.

Afzal Khan, has the misfortune of having built his three story residence adjacent to the collapsed structure. His was one of the few buildings first to be given notice. Having lawfully evacuated the building his neighbor Ritvik Bhansal who still hasn’t shifted says that Khan had gotten his building checked by engineers during construction to make sure the structure was sound.

His basement isn’t even flooded.

Most of the residents claim they expected far more from the government than being victims to the fall out from the petty squabbles between political parties. Since the tragedy a small informal committee of local residents had made it a point to gather up whatever belongings they could of the victims. As the first floor was being used as a hand-loom and stitching workshop, equipment worth lakhs was salvaged by them.

Their hope was that at least the means of livelihood wouldn’t be lost for the survivors. This material was kept in the adjacent park however it disappeared at night when the committee went back to their homes. This is not the only mysterious disappearance, large amounts of salvaged raw material from the workshop as well as construction material that was saved disappeared as soon as it was recovered.

“We are helpless,” says Sushant Singh, a shopkeeper and member of the ‘committee’, “The police doesn’t let us keep night watch and in the meanwhile all the belongings of these unfortunate poor people is stolen.” He suspects a few in the police who are behind this but has no proof. His more immediate concern is finding a way back to normality. His cousin was one of the victims of the tragedy. Sushant had called him from Bihar to get a job during the Commonwealth Games.

“Commonwealth games gave us a crisis management system,” he says, “where was that system when we needed it?”

Its been over three days since the tragedy. He hasn’t received any answers.

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~ by samiralam on November 21, 2010.

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