Deadly Building Collapse in India Caused by Illegal Alterations, Police Say

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MUMBAI, India — The Mumbai police on Wednesday arrested a man affiliated with a local political party, accusing him of making illegal alterations to the ground floor of a five-story building that caused it to collapse a day earlier, killing at least 17 people and injuring many others.

Deven Bharti, joint commissioner of the Mumbai police, said charges of culpable homicide and endangering the lives of others had been filed against the man, Sunil Shitap. Mr. Bharti said the police believed that Mr. Shitap had been making illegal alterations to the ground floor of the building, where he operated a nursing home, in Ghatkopar, an area east of the city center.

Relatives of the victims and other residents of the building said Mr. Shitap was affiliated with Shiv Sena, a local party. His wife contested and lost local elections earlier this year as a member of the party.

“He had three flats on the ground floor that he emptied and broke the foundational pillar, which is why the building fell,” Vandana Singh, 45, who had lived in the building for nine years, said in an interview.

Ms. Singh said she had left her first-floor apartment just 10 minutes before the building collapsed to take her daughter to a tutoring session. Now, she said, she had lost everything and was staying with her mother.

“What can I say?” she said. “Now I’m standing in front of the collapsed building. My belongings are entirely lost.”

Rescue workers continued Wednesday digging through the rubble of the building for any survivors. The Indian Express newspaper reported that the death toll had climbed to 17 as of Wednesday, in addition to the 11 injured, many of whom remained hospitalized.

The building’s collapse is reflective of a sadly familiar phenomenon in India. A severe housing shortage, lax regulation and political corruption have resulted in too many people crowded into old, weak and substandard structures. Politically connected people such as contractors and developers often circumvent safety rules with impunity until disaster strikes.

The building that fell was nondescript, at the end of a cul-de-sac in a lower-middle-class neighborhood. Most residents owned their apartments, and many were in the upper four floors when the building collapsed about 10:45 a.m.

Mr. Shitap, who is in police custody, could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning. But Mumbai’s mayor, Vishwanath Mahadeshwar, who is from the Shiv Sena party, on Tuesday denied that any of its members owned the nursing home.