Durban - The eThekwini Municipality wants Ravi Jagadasan, whose company was building the Tongaat mall that collapsed, killing two people, to be jailed for contempt of court.
Alternatively the city is asking that Jagadasan, the son of businessman Jay Singh, pay a fine.
It has also asked the Durban High Court to impose a fine on Jagadasan’s company, Rectangle Property Investments.
The contempt of court application was filed last week and has been set down for February.
Melanie Moodley, speaking for the Singh family, said on Wednesday that the papers had been served on Jagadasan and that he would oppose the application.
In its court papers, the municipality alleges that Jagadasan’s company blatantly disregarded an interim order and a final order that it stop construction on the site.
The municipality brought an urgent application earlier this year for the court interdict, arguing that the company had no approval to begin work on its proposed R208 million development.
In papers filed in response to the urgent application, Jagadasan said: “There is no danger to members of the public or any other persons in relation to this project.”
He also claimed that the interdict application was “an abuse of the court process”.
In its contempt of court papers, the city said that the orders were sought to “protect the safety of the general public” and should be “jealously guarded”.
“No person should be permitted to simply disregard the provisions (of the orders) without being severely punished,” the city said.
In an affidavit the city’s legal adviser, Siyabulela Mfingwana, said that after the interim order was granted in September to stop work at the site, the company continued with construction.
This was despite the order being served on the company at its business address, on the company’s law firm and on the site of the mall in October.
When municipal enforcement officer Lungiswa Cemane found that the work had not stopped, the municipality sent a letter to the company’s attorney. This was also ignored.
Instead the attorney, Kershnie Govender, sent a letter to the city last month in which she said that the interim order had been “relief in final form” and there was “no reason” for the company to attend court on the return date, November 14.
On that date the interim order was made final but the work did not stop until the collapse on November 19.
The municipality said Jagadasan should be held personally liable because he controlled the company’s actions and “caused the company to wilfully disobey” the court orders.
Commenting on the case, attorney Warren Beech, at firm Hogan Lovells SA, which was previously Routledge Modise, said there was a range of contempt of court fines that could be imposed.
“Unfortunately, these are generally relatively low, starting as low as R500 for contempt of court.”
Beech also said it was “perfectly acceptable” for the municipality to ask for Jagadasan to be jailed, based on the history of alleged non-compliance.
However, he added that company directors were not generally exposed to imprisonment and, where companies were found to have breached laws, fines were paid.