Arpit Palace’s emergency exit was mere formality, it remained locked every night
A day after the blaze left 17 people dead, a security guard of Hotel Arpit Palace and several employees of neighbouring hotels in Karol Bagh said that the narrow, green iron shutter was locked from outside every night.Updated: Feb 14, 2019 11:12 IST
Even if the guests at the burning Hotel Arpit Palace had found their way to the emergency exit on the ground floor, after removing the goods that blocked the passageway, they would still not have been able to escape. Not only was the narrow exit closed from the inside, it was also locked from the outside, leaving it practically useless.
A day after the blaze left 17 people dead, a security guard of the hotel and several employees of neighbouring hotels said that the narrow, green iron shutter was locked from outside every night. On Wednesday afternoon, a mid-sized metal lock guarded the shutter, which is about three feet wide and opens into a dingy, dirty alley.
An officer of the crime branch, a specialised unit investigating the fire, said they had locked the shutter after the tragedy to seal the premises. However, he said, the emergency exit remained locked from the outside most times before the tragedy.
“The main locking system was from the outside. None of the guests could have escaped even if they had managed to open the emergency gate from inside,” said the officer.
In a press briefing on Tuesday, Mandeep Singh Randhawa, deputy commissioner of police (central), had singled out the emergency exit when asked about the “lapses and wilful negligence” he had mentioned. The first information report (FIR) too listed the “closed” emergency exit and the absence of signage leading to it as lapses.
According to a chef of the neighbouring Hotel Metro View, the emergency exit of Hotel Arpit Palace is located in the restaurant and bar that operated from the ground floor of the hotel. “It is sometimes used by the staffers as an entry and exit point and they carry the kitchen goods through it, but we mostly find it locked from the outside,” said the chef whose kitchen opens into the same alley. “Even if the exit is opened for hotel staff’s use, it is certainly locked from the outside by midnight when the restaurant shuts.”
A supervisor of another neighbouring hotel, L’Affaire, said that the logic behind keeping the gate locked from outside was to keep thieves away.
“The general belief is that the emergency exits would never be needed. It is installed to obtain the mandatory licence, but is hardly accessible for guests in most hotels in Karol Bagh,” said Ravi, manager of another hotel.
A security guard who worked the day shift at the Hotel Arpit Palace said that he is among two guards deployed at the hotel. “The shutter is downed and the lock is placed latest by 3 am. It is opened again by 7 am,” said the guard.
A dark alley into which the emergency exit opens is clearly neglected as it is littered with mud and dirt and strewn with large plastic drums which serve as a dustbin for the waste from the restaurant. Two medium-sized fire extinguishers hang from the wall, right next to the emergency exit.