Goa building collapse toll rise to 16, probe begins (Roundup)

Panaji, Jan 5 (IANS) The toll in the building collapse in Goa rose to 16 Sunday, as the state government started a probe into why the accident took place, officials said.

At least 11 people were hospitalised and around 20 were feared still buried under the debris as rescue work continued on a day when politics overshadowed the gloom caused by what was termed the biggest building collapse in the state.
A five-storeyed under-construction building collapsed Saturday afternoon in the coastal town of Canacona, 80 km from here, trapping the on-site labourers.
A day after the accident, rescue officials said the chances of survival of those still trapped appeared bleak.
Bodies of 14 people were retrieved from the rubble Saturday, and two more bodies were found Sunday, according to officials.
The Pune-based National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) team, which arrived Sunday, was also lending a helping hand in the rescue operation.
An official supervising the rescue efforts told reporters that it was not possible to know how many people were still trapped under the debris, because the building contractor and site engineer who maintained attendance records were missing.
“We do not know how many (people) exactly. But there was shouting and screaming from inside yesterday (Saturday) which suggested that there are around 20 people still inside. The number is unconfirmed,” said Acting South Goa Collector Venancio Furtado.
The sounds came from a large cavity within the rubble, which was caused after a slab fell horizontally on some girders, creating a space within, he said.
But reaching out to the workers was tricky as the concrete slab threatened to cave in the moment the rescue team made efforts to reach out to the victims, he said.
“They (rescue team) are using gas cutters and other machines, but reaching to those trapped inside is not easy,” said Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, who was personally monitoring the rescue efforts.
Parrikar said official compensation for the deceased and injured people would be announced Monday.
He also said the incident has raised fears that the quality of construction was being compromised by the builders.
“We are coming up with guidelines for construction of buildings within the next two days. All buildings will have to adhere to them from now on,” Parrikar said.
Fear has now gripped the few occupants of a building adjoining the Ruby Residency complex – the accident site – as the impact caused by the collapse led to cracks in it.
Officials said the state government’s town and country planning department, which examines and authorises construction plans, had located the relevant plans and was examining the circumstances in which the permissions were granted.
“It appears that the construction had encroached into a neighbouring soft soil paddy field. Prima facie that could have caused one of the columns to collapse. But we have also asked for testing of the material to see if sub-standard quality construction material was used,” an official said, not ruling out other real estate projects promoted by the accused firm Bharat Developers and Realtors.
Efforts by IANS to contact the real estate development company failed as the phone number listed on its official website was switched off.
The contractor as well as the company’s directors were untraceable, police said.
Meanwhile, Sports Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party legislator Ramesh Tawadkar blamed the erstwhile Congress government for granting permission to the project.
“The Congress is to blame. They granted all permissions for the project. We were elected to power only in 2012,” Tawadkar told IANS.
The Congress, meanwhile, questioned how Tawadkar, a former school teacher, managed to own a flat in an adjacent building in the same Ruby Residency project.