Indian police arrest owner of collapsed building as death toll rises to 17

Rescue workers search for survivors at the site of a collapsed building in the suburbs of Mumbai, India on July 25, 2017.
Rescue workers search for survivors at the site of a collapsed building in the suburbs of Mumbai, India on July 25, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

MUMBAI (AFP) - Indian police arrested the owner of a property in a building that collapsed in Mumbai on culpable homicide charges on Wednesday (July 26) as the death toll from the disaster rose to 17.

The arrest came as civic activists in India's financial capital decried the latest deadly housing collapse, which shone a spotlight on poor construction standards in the Asian country.

"We have arrested Sunil Shitap and are questioning him regarding the alterations that led to the building collapse," joint commissioner Deven Bharti of the Mumbai police, said.

Seventeen people, including a three-month-old baby, were crushed under a pile of rubble when the four-storey building in the northern suburb of Ghatkopar gave way on Tuesday (July 25) morning.

Police suspect that renovation work being carried out by Shitap to a private hospital on the ground floor caused the building, which housed several families in small apartments, to collapse.

Joint Commissioner Bharti said Shitap had been booked under three offences, including culpable homicide not amounting to murder and causing grievous hurt by an act endangering the life or personal safety of others.

The death toll jumped to 17 on Wednesday after rescuers, using diggers to sift through the debris found several bodies during the night.

"Seventeen are dead and we have rescued 29 victims, eight of which have been admitted to hospital," Mr Sudhir Naik, a deputy commissioner for Mumbai's civic administrative body, said.

Rescue operations were winding down on Wednesday afternoon as officials started to give up hope of finding any more survivors.

Building collapses are common in India, especially during the monsoon season from late June to September.

Mumbai is particularly vulnerable with millions forced to live in cramped, ramshackle properties because of rising real estate prices and a lack of housing for the poor.

The city has been hit by several deadly building collapses in recent years, often caused by shoddy construction, poor quality materials or ageing buildings.

Activists say housing societies, private owners and builders often cut corners to save on costs. They also claim that corruption plays a part with officials sometimes knowingly certifying dilapidated buildings in return for money.

"It is a combination of factors. Mumbai has so many horrible building collapses waiting to happen," Mr Krishnaraj Rao, a decades-long campaigner for residents rights, said.

In 2013, 60 people were killed when a residential block came crashing down in one of Mumbai's worst housing disasters.

A dilapidated building left 12 people dead when it collapsed near the city in August 2015. Nine people died the same month when another old three-storey building collapsed in monsoon rain in the Mumbai suburb of Thakurli.