Mundka fire: Probe finds lapses by Delhi's civic staff, 3 officials suspended
The North Delhi Municipal Corporation on Tuesday suspended three officials and launched a vigilance inquiry against a fourth for not acting against the illegal building in Mundka where a devastating fire last Friday killed 27 people, civic officials aware of the matter said.
The action came on the recommendations of an inquiry committee headed by an additional commissioner that was constituted by the North MCD after the incident. Those suspended include a licensing inspector, section officer of the general branch and section officer of the house tax department, the officials said.
The civic body has started a vigilance inquiry and penalty proceedings against the junior engineer who allowed the building to come up despite being booked for illegal construction in 2011.
A North MCD spokesperson on Tuesday said that, prima facie, it appears to be a case of laxity on the part of the officials of the general branch, house tax department, as well as the building department of the then Najafgarh zone of the erstwhile unified MCD.
The probe committee was asked to submit a report on 10 action points within 48 hours of the incident. A senior municipal official, who was part of the inquiry team, said that four-storey building was located in the extended Lal Dora area of Mundka village. This was in violation of the rules that do not allow industrial units in the Lal Dora or village land.
Last Friday, a massive fire spread through the three floors of the building where a CCTV and Wi-Fi router assembling unit was being run illegally. Nearly 70 employees and other representatives of the company were present since the firm had organised a motivational lecture for its staff. The firefighters, police and disaster relief teams had a tough time retrieving bodies from the buildings as they were completely charred. At least 40 people were also injured in the fire.
“According to the inquiry, three floors of the building had been rented out to Harish Goyal and the owner of the building, Manish Lakra, lived with his family on the top floor. The basement was being used for storage purpose and ground floor was vacant,” the official said. Goyal ran the industrial unit in the building.
Citing the inquiry report, North MCD officials said there were multiple illegalities involved, and were not acted upon by the officers concerned. They said the building is situated on a road which has neither been marked commercial nor mixed land use. Commercial activities in Delhi are allowed only on roads marked under these two categories, besides authorised industrial areas.
“According to the municipal building department records, the building is 11 years old and it was booked by the then Najafgarh Zone officials on March 8, 2011 and June 20, 2011. The owner never applied for sanction of building plan. The inquiry report has also concluded that the building was being used for industrial purpose which is not permitted in extended Lal Dora area, and no valid factory license was issued to the factory,” the report said.
The Najafgarh zone that existed under the unified MCD, came under the Narela zone of North MCD after the trifurcation of the MCD in 2012.
The inquiry report has also found that no property tax had ever been paid by the owner even though notices were issued by the department. “Action against the building in the past was taken in 2019. One the directions of Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee, a liquor shop that was running from the ground floor of the premises was sealed in January 2019. Then, on the orders of the committee in July 2019 , the property was de-sealed after removing property. The ground floor stayed vacant since then,” the spokesperson said.
The monitoring committee is empowered to take action against the violations related to the Delhi Master Plan and other building norms.
Officials who asked not to be named said that despite so many violations, the building continued to exist and the owner even rented the space for a factory. They said this points to serious lapses on the part of the departments concerned.
North MCD commissioner Sanjay Goel said that action will be taken against the junior engineer concerned to set an example that the liability for such lapses will be fixed and those responsible will have to face action. “Generally, cause of action is not taken after a period of more than 11 years but we want to send out a message that no one will escape scrutiny. We are maintaining transparency in this process and we will take every step to prevent to stop recurrence of such incidents. Daily action taken reports against such units will now be made public,” Goel said.
He added that survey has been launched across municipal zones to identify more such illegal buildings. “We are giving a 48-hour notice to industries in non-conforming areas [such as Lal Dora], 7-day notice to factories in industrial areas that are running without a licence or a fire safety NOC and a 48-hour notice to restaurants that don’t have safety clearances. Beyond the notice period, we will take strict action against errant people. One factory has been sealed today by our teams in Karol Bagh,” he added.
According to an official report, the survey has found 45 units running without license and a fire clearance in the Narela zone, 44 units running without licence and 18 without fire NOC in City Sadar-Paharganj zone. It added that 20 units running without fire NOC were spotted in the Rohini zone during the survey.
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