Jamil Quraishi, one of the two builders involved in constructing the Mumbra building that crashed on Thursday evening killing 72 people and injuring over 60, spent two hours at the crash site immediately after the collapse, but fled when he came to know that cops were looking for him.
Nobody noticed Quraishi in the chaotic aftermath of the crash, and he even helped rescuers in pulling out survivors from the debris and arranging transport to the nearby hospitals. However, the moment a friend told him he would be in trouble if cops spotted him or somebody recognised him, Quraishi slipped away.
This correspondent on Saturday evening spotted Quraishi in tears, waiting to be ushered into Deputy Commissioner of Police zone 1 Ashok Dudhe’s office near the Thane police commissionerate. This was just hours after he was brought to Thane from his native Hathnur village in Uttar Pradesh’s Siddharthnagar district.
Sobbing uncontrollably, Quraishi told this correspondent that he hadn’t slept a wink or eaten anything from the time he learnt of the crash on Thursday. “I have seen pictures of the dead. I saw children as young as five eing pulled out of the debris. I am responsible for this tragedy. I deserve the harshest punishment,” he said before being led away by the cops.
Quraishi told Assistant Police Inspector M D Salvi, who arrested him from his village at 1 am on Saturday, that he was asleep at his house in Shimla Park in Mumbra when he heard the news about the crash. “I immediately rushed to the spot. I had thought a small part of the building or a portion of a slab had fallen. But what I saw shook me. The entire building was gone.”
Instinctively, Quraishi joined the neighbours in looking for survivors and arranging for transport to rush the injured to nearby hospitals. Nobody recognised him in all the chaos and it did not strike him too that he would be in deep trouble if somebody did. Nearly two hours into the rescue effort, he met an acquaintance who told him he was mad to be hanging around the crash site. “I was told people would lynch me if I was identified.”
Quraishi then rushed home, collected some cash and drove down to Mumbai airport, where he boarded an 11.10 pm flight to Delhi. He hired a car at the Delhi airport that took him to his village in UP’s Siddharthnagar district, nearly 250 km from the national capital. By then, the Thane cops were hot on his trail. His phone has been tracked to Siddharthnagar and his fellow builder Salim Shaikh was in police custody.
Assistant Police Inspector Salvi left for Uttar Pradesh the same evening. He left alone because the investigators did not want to lose any time. Quraishi could have easily crossed over to Nepal. A back-up team of four headed by Senior Police Inspector Arun Sonde followed Salvi.
Salvi reached Quraishi’s house in Hathnur at 1 am on Saturday. “Quraishi was awake, watching news on TV. When I told him I had come to arrest him, he said he knew somebody would come from Thane police sooner or later,” Salvi said.
Salvi then called the back-up team and informed them of Quraishi’s arrest and asked them to stay put at the Delhi airport. He then drove back to Delhi with Quraishi with in handcuffs. Salvi, Quraishi and the back-up team boarded a flight to Mumbai at 3 pm and landed here around 5 pm.
Quraishi has since told interrogators that he rented out apartments in the under-construction building to keep the municipal corporation’s demolition squad at bay. It is common knowledge in Mumbra, a town dotted with illegal constructions, that demolition squads hesitate in touching a building that is occupied.
Most of his tenants were poor migrants employed as daily-wagers in small-scale industries around Mumbra. Lured with cheap rents and used as shields against demolition squads by Quraishi, they eventually paid with their lives.