Mumbai: With more than 40 people feared trapped in the collapse of a three-storeyed building in south Mumbai on July 16, 2019--and 499 buildings in the city identified as similarly vulnerable--an IndianSpend analysis of municipal data reveals that the fire- and disaster-management budget for India’s financial capital declined 38% over three years to 2020.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is India’s richest civic body. The decline in its disaster management and fire-brigade budget unfolded alongside a 60% rise in funding, over two years to 2020, to build an eight-lane, 32-km coastal road along the island-city’s western seaboard, according to our analysis of municipal data from 2015-16 to 2019-20.

The inadequacy of the BMC’s fire-and-disaster response was evident in the fact that only one in three emergency calls to the fire brigade in south Mumbai received help within eight minutes--the internationally accepted standard--according to an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Bombay study quoted in the Hindustan Times on June 2, 2019.

The IIT study recommended more fire stations and extra vehicles for the brigade’s fleet to better service south Mumbai, an area with 92,312 people per sq km, compared to 10,796 per sq km in New York, a city with four million fewer people than Mumbai’s 12.4 million.

The dire situation in Mumbai is mirrored nationwide, with 1,830 “structural collapses” reported in 2015, the latest year for which data are available, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. Up to 59% or 1,080 such collapses were of “dwelling-houses/residential buildings”.

That same year, 1,885 people--or five every day--died in “structural collapses”. Of these, 1,109--or three every day--died in “dwelling-houses/residential buildings” collapses.

In the 2019-20 municipal budget, the BMC set aside Rs 201.4 crore or 2% of its capital expenditure, for the Mumbai Fire Brigade. This covers investments for new disaster management equipment, safety gear, vehicles and fire stations.

While this is an 11.5% increase from 2018-19, the fire brigade’s budget is still recovering from a drop of 39.7% and 7.5% over two years to 2018-19. Before that, the BMC’s budget for this head had seen a five-year peak at Rs 273.9 crore in 2016-17.

In 2017-18, the BMC included the coastal road project in its capital expenditure, allocating Rs 1,000 crore ($156 million) for the year. Thereafter, spending on the project rose by 33% in 2018-19 and by 6% in 2019-20.

The July 16 disaster came 709 days after the BMC, on August 7, 2017, identified the Kesarbhai building that collapsed in south Mumbai’s Dongri as a “dangerous structure” that needed to be “vacated & demolished”.

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