Victims of building collapses grappling with trauma, debt

On the one hand, they have lost almost all their belongings, on the other, they are getting little or no compensation

At least four buildings in Bengaluru collapsed in the past month. No casualties were reported as residents fled to safety in the nick of time. But the survivors are traumatised, and are trying to pick up the pieces with little or no help from the authorities.

Sunshine Apartment, Kasturinagar

Three couples in their 20s and 30s were rendered homeless when the G+3 Sunshine Apartment in Kasturinagar came crashing down on October 7. They were living as tenants.

Chartered accountant Ankush Agarwal, his wife and his mother stayed at a friend’s house for a week, then at his sister’s place, before moving into a rented flat in a well-known gated community in Varthur.

“I will never go for a local builder from now on. If a branded property crashes, the developer will at least pay compensation to save their image,” Ankush says. Accused of unauthorised construction, the builders of Sunshine Apartment are absconding, he’s learnt from the BBMP.

In the absence of rehabilitation, bank official Amareesh Kumar Pandey says he and his wife had to stay at a hotel for a few days. They later found a flat for rent, not too far from their previous address. A friend lent a car to do “the running around” and his office gave a longish leave.

Three families were staying at the G+3 Sunshine
Apartments in Kasturinagar that crashed on October 7.
(Inset) For Sanjana Pavate and Mohit Kashyap,
it was their first home after their wedding.

In Sanjana Pavate’s case, her flat owner offered a room for a day or two and returned the deposit soon. “But my in-laws stay in Mahadevapura, so I moved in with them,” says the architect. She will shift to a new home after her husband returns from a work trip next month.

These couples have found a roof above their head but that’s that.

“Except for a few clothes and vessels, we could not recover anything from the rubble. Gold, four mobile phones, small and big things, everything’s gone. I have now borrowed money from relatives to buy utensils, a refrigerator, a washing machine, and two plastic chairs,” says Amareesh. The stress to repay this loan on top of two others has taken a toll on his mental health. “I had to visit a psychiatrist,” he admits.

Sanjana can relate. “These days, the ceiling of my in-laws' home often appears to be tilting. It's a trauma, I guess. My dog is also traumatised. He was alone at home, hiding in the bathroom, scared, when the firemen rescued him.”

Even Sanjana could not salvage much from her home, her first since marriage. “I found a few saris and lehengas, some silver items, a few documents, and fewer clothes. I lost all my gold. We had bought expensive furniture, hoping these would last a lifetime…” her voice trails off.

Of the three families, the Agarwals had been staying at Sunshine for the longest, since 2019. But now, Ankush swears he won’t ever go to Kasturi Nagar or near it.

“Seeing the building fall, asking the demolishers day and night to let us search our belongings, taking money from friends... the memories are painful,” he says.

One they settle in a bit, Sanjana, Ankush and their families plan to take legal action and seek compensation from the builders.

Srinivas at his new house in Kamalanagar. 
His family was to move to this flat a day
before their old home crumbled. A broken
puja stool and a torn family album are
among the things they have recovered
from the debris.

Sri Varalakshmi Nelayaa, Kamalanagar

Over 21 km away is Kamalanagar, a lower-income neighbourhood where the foundation of a three-storey building gave away on the night of October 12. Further damage and demolition followed.

Unlike in Kasturinagar, government support poured in swiftly. BBMP arranged a temporary stay at a nearby school and provided meals. The local MLA paid Rs 1 lakh and Rs 15,000 by way of compensation to families affected directly and indirectly. New homes have been promised though there’s no word on the timeline, and the builders are missing.

And so, anger and uncertainty are rife, and festival cheer is not to be seen.

Plumbing contractor Srinivas has postponed the wedding of his daughter, which was slated for just after Deepavali. “We have recovered most of our gold and silver. The rest is still under the rubble,” says Srinivas, who was planning to move to a new flat a day before the building fell.

Some other things the family of six could find were a roll of bedding and blankets, tattered clothes, a shattered TV, a broken sewing machine, a torn family album. The plumbing and drilling machines got damaged severely, which has hit his work and livelihood.

But now, relatives and friends have given clothes, a bed, and cooking vessels to rebuild their new home, which is a few lanes up the road from the old house.

Not just the building but a portion of adjacent houses was also knocked down, such as Sarala’s. And she is livid as she asks: “Why were the tenants given Rs 1 lakh while my family, which owned this house for 40 years, was given just Rs 15,000? Why did the police not give us time to collect our belongings?"

She is a homemaker and her husband a construction worker, so filing a court case is out of the question. “We don’t have that kind of money,” she explains.

Her family is currently staying at a relative’s place, which overlooks her broken home. So that’s eight people in a small flat. “But here the owner is complaining, why we are consuming so much water. I don’t know how and when we will get a house," she says. 

How to take legal action

You can approach the court to seek compensation and also a temporary home till it comes through, says Bengaluru-based advocate Sharan B Tadahal, who has represented citizens in real estate cases.

To access free legal aid, you can visit the District Legal Services Authority located inside the City Civil Court complex. Many social organisations also take up cases on a pro bono basis.

How much compensation can one claim? “You can cite a ballpark figure and back it up with evidence adequately,” he says. You can produce bills sourced from emails, SMSes, or original vendors, or photographs of the belongings you had.

In cases of building collapse, Sharan would advise aggrieved families to file a case collectively rather than separately. “It makes your case stronger as the court can comprehend the extent of the loss incurred.”