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No seizure of building files were made Monday, February 26, 2001
AHMEDABAD: So, who is to blame for the files of buildings which are suddenly starting to disappear from offices of AUDA? The fire that broke out in 1991 and did not allow the authorities to re-establish the records room for 10 years, or officials of the district collectorate who have not done their job methodically?
Town planning department authorities of the AMC and AUDA are under fire. They have even been refused permission to quit their jobs before the inquiry into the collapsed structures, which killed 700 people, is complete.
And the district administration now says they only asked these erring officials to "submit'' the files relating to buildings where police complaints have been filed. There was no seizure, they insist. This, says a high-ranking police official, is "like asking the murderer to hand over the weapon".
District collector K Srininivas told TOI, "We have acted as conduits where we were asked to collect the files and hand them over to the police, so we asked the AMC and AUDA to give us all the files, especially those where police complaints had been lodged". And they did.
As investigations in lapses on part of the construction industry began, the first blow to the process was delivered by the hasty removal of debris (which was of course necessary to look for survivors) leaving little evidence on ground to back up prosecution in the court of law.
Much depended on the documents that go with each building, like the engineering and architectural plans as also the progress reports signed by civil engineers and officials of the town planning department of the AUDA, said a high-ranking police official connected with investigations.
So the police teams started collecting samples with help from engineers of the Roads and Buildings Department and the Forensic Science Laboratory. But the first question marks over the authenticity of the efforts were raised when there was confusion as to who will test these samples.
Even as the details as to who would do the tests and where, officials of the district collectorate went about their task of collecting files relating to various buildings in the city. They gathered all the files which the AMC and AUDA's town planning departments had to offer, rather than rummaging through the records themselves and seizing them methodically. The evidence in black and white was since kept in the custody of the district collector.
But Satellite police inspector, and subsequently other investigating officers, discovered that crucial files like that of Shikhar, where over 90 people died, were missing.
The fact that some important files were missing from the AUDA record room was not reported by the collectorate (because they were just blindly collecting documents) but by the police which went through the records two weeks later.
Says a high-ranking police official, the district administration had ``collected'' whatever was handed over to them. It is possible that the files went missing just before the collectorate officials moved in or the files went amiss from the office of the collector. "Anything is possible with such high stakes," suspects a policeman.
Firstly, there is no uniformity in the number and type of documents that go with each building. The collectorate officials should have methodically documented the papers that have been seized and a proper panchnama made to make sure that all the relevant documents were seized, the police feel.
Had that been done, the whistle on the builders would have been blown much earlier as the lacunae, the case of missing documents, would have been discovered by the collectorate officials themselves and not left to the police to find out a fortnight down the line.
When asked to comment if the district administration had seized the files methodically, kept a checklist of all the documents seized or not found, police commissioner P C Pande said he would not comment on it. However, he admitted that seizure checklists would have exposed this much earlier than when inspector Gohil found out.