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One dead in mall scaffolding collapse

South City Mall employees remove the collapsed metal scaffolding from the floor
Glass pieces strewn on the floor outside Sarvottam’s, on the second floor of the mall. Pictures by Safrula Ahmad
Shoppers point at a torn hanging banner that one of the labourers had tried to grab while falling. Picture by Anup Bhattacharya

Four men hanging buntings from the ceiling of the four-storeyed South City Mall around noon on Sunday tumbled off the over 80ft-high scaffolding after the metal structure they were standing on collapsed.

One of the labourers died after plummeting straight down to the ground floor. One man shot through the glass front of a second-floor store and two others managed to hang on to the railings and banners before falling off.

Police said Garia resident Ashok Halder, 32, who died, is survived by his parents, wife and a five-year-old daughter.

The other three — Debabrata Halder, 19, Biswajit Naiya, 20 and Bhagaban Sardar, 18 — were admitted to AMRI Hospitals Salt Lake. Debabrata fractured his spine, while the others suffered waist, head, shoulder, knee and hand injuries.

Two other labourers and an employee of Sarvottam’s, the second-floor sari shop whose glass door was shattered, were also injured and taken to a private hospital nearby. They were released after first-aid.

“I heard a loud noise and peeped out to check what was happening when I saw a metal structure hurtling towards us. It crashed against the glass door and fell on me. I suffered cuts on my head and body,” recounted Bharat Roy, an employee of Sarvottam’s.

The accident caused panic among Sunday morning shoppers, some of whom scurried into stores and ran down ascending escalators thinking the mall was under attack.

“There was a loud sound and a metal platform with a man on it slammed into the glass front of a shop that I had just walked past. I thought it was a terror attack and ran upstairs to see whether my son was safe or not,” said Safrula Ahmad, who had come with his son to attend a birthday party of one of his son’s friends in the mall’s play area.

“There was too much commotion inside the mall after the accident. People were running around, with some trying to rush down ascending escalators in panic,” he added.

Within 20 minutes, mall employees cleared the metal rods and shards from the floors and cleaned the blood. Those who arrived later could hardly find any sign of the terrible accident.

“The authorities cleared the area within minutes,” said Nivedita Roy, a shopper.

When the police reached the spot around 12.30pm, normality had been restored.

The mall authorities said they had outsourced the maintenance job to an agency and were not responsible for the accident. The police, however, have slapped charges on the mall management and the private firm tasked with the upkeep.

Both have been charged under IPC sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 201 (causing disappearance of evidence), 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide) and 114 (abetment to the offence).

If proved guilty, the convicts could be imprisoned for up to 10 years or jailed for life.

“The mall authorities cannot deny their responsibility because it was their job to ensure that the private contractor had taken all safety measures. We are also looking for the private contractor who was present at the spot during the accident but has been absconding since,” said an officer of Jadavpur police station.

The officer said the case had been started based on a complaint filed by one of the visitors who saw the accident.

The mall authorities have issued a statement, saying: “We are also trying to figure out what had led to the accident. The entire maintenance is outsourced to an external agency, which has been working on this assignment since the mall has been operational. We will provide all support to the families of the victims.”

A mall official said the authorities had photographed each and every detail, including the joints of the scaffolding. The management, the official said, had pictures of the workers wearing helmets and tethered with waist belts.

“All safety measures were taken. The men who fell down have been doing the same work for the past seven years. They fixed the hanging banners last week, too. This is a freak accident,” said the official.

The injured labourers, however, denied the mall authorities’ claim. “The helmets were not strapped. The waist belts were tied to railings of the scaffolding. As a result, when the structure tumbled and the joints came off, we fell with the structure,” said a labourer.

He added that the structure, which was at least 80ft-high, had no support at the top and was only balanced by two ropes, held by two labourers on two sides.

The labourer said there were wheels attached at the base of the structure and once the labourers reached the top and finished tying a bunting, the scaffolding was slowly rolled to another position.

He suspects the balance between the top and the base might have been disturbed, leading to the accident.

“Two of our labourers who were holding on to the ropes also suffered serious hand injuries when they tried to break the fall,” the labourer said.