Residents of the slum in Bandra (E) that caught fire on Friday have alleged foul play. They claimed that the fire was an act of sabotage, done to clear the land of slums.
The plot on which the slums stand is close to the highway as well as the railway station. Real estate experts believe this makes it a potential goldmine for builders.
“The area is a thickly-populated maze. If the fire was an accident, the number of casualties would have been very high,” said Shahid Shamim, a resident of the slum, adding that it was started and controlled to ensure there were minimal casualties.
Residents said the fire began in a shanty next to a mosque at one end of the slum. “The fire was somehow confined to that spot for about 10 minutes, which gave everybody enough time to flee. Only after that did it spread,” said Shamim. “The motive was to damage the huts without causing any harm to us,” said another resident, Farooq Shaikh.
Uday Tatkare, chief fire officer, said the fire brigade would probe all angles. The preliminary report will be out within 24 hours.
The fire that broke out at 8.30 pm, was designated as a ‘brigade call’, a fire brigade term that indicates the blaze is out of control. All senior fire officers, along with Municipal Commissioner Subodh Kumar and Additional Municipal Commissioner Manisha Mhaiskar, rushed to the site.
The fire was bought under control only at 5.30 am on Saturday. More than 26 fire engines and 100 firemen were part of the operation.
According to civic data, most of the slums were built before 1995 and the residents have the requisite photo passes to prove this. This means that they are entitled to government-built houses . “There are a few slums which were built recently and are illegal,” said a senior civic official on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
Vibhu mehra real estate consultant said “ The current property rate in this area is Rs 25,000 per sq feet. The area has a lot of demand as it is close to the plush Bandra Kurla Complex.”