India: More questions after 15 die in Goa collapse

Rescue workers retrieve a body from the rubble. Picture: Reuters
Rescue workers retrieve a body from the rubble. Picture: Reuters
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AT LEAST 15 workers were killed and many feared trapped when a half-built apartment block collapsed in the Indian resort state of Goa, the latest disaster to draw attention to safety standards amid a construction boom in the area.

The multi-storey building in Canacona, in the western state, collapsed on Saturday. Senior police official OP Mishra said yesterday afternoon that 15 workers had been killed and 21 had been rescued so far.

Rescuers worked using hoes and shovels to dig for survivors under a massive pile of broken concrete and dust, while soldiers and firefighters listened for movement or cries from the wreckage as they worked through the night on Saturday to clear the debris.

Around 50 people were working at the site at the time and at least a dozen were still trapped under the concrete, according to witness accounts cited in media reports. One report put the number of people trapped as high as 60. Many of the workers had come from other, poorer states, including Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, in search of jobs in India’s thriving construction business.

One worker who was not at the scene when the building collapsed was reported as saying that he earned about 300 rupees (£3.90) for a day’s work.

Several workers had taken the day off on Saturday to attend a nearby state cultural fair.

“We rushed from the event when we heard that the building had fallen,” said Manoj Kumar, a worker originally from the eastern state of Orissa.

India’s booming construction industry is set to be worth hundreds of billions of pounds by 2025, according to a report by Global Construction Perspectives and Oxford Economics.

However, this rapid growth has often come at the expense of safety standards. Building collapses are common in India, as massive demand for housing and lax regulations often encourage builders to cut corners by using substandard materials, or add unauthorised extra floors.

At least 50 people were killed when a five-storey apartment block in India’s financial centre, Mumbai, collapsed last September.

A collapse in April killed 72 people in Thane, a satellite city just outside Mumbai. Officials said the structure was built with poor materials and did not have proper approvals.

Goa’s chief minister, Manohar Parrikar, said he ordered a review of the construction project, after seeing cracks that developed in the adjacent apartment building constructed by the same company, Mumbai-based Bharat Developers and Realtors Pvt. Ltd.

“The design is faulty, which is why the tragedy happened,” Mr Parrikar said. Goa police have registered a case – using a process known in India as a “first information report” – against the real estate development firm building the Goa block.

However, officials had yesterday been unable to track down the construction manager and building contractor.

“Without the contractor, it is impossible for us to know how many labourers were on the shift,” said state official Ajit Panchwadkar, who was supervising the continuing rescue effort yesterday.