Delhi experiences yet another civic failure, no lesson learnt from past
Two fires – one in March in the same building, and the other in a structure 500m away on Saturday – should have sent alarm bells ringing, but the civic body took no steps.Updated: Dec 09, 2019 01:09 IST
The blaze that gutted a five-storey building and killed 43 workers on Sunday spotlighted the north Delhi Municipal Corporation’s feeble enforcement of land-use rules and lenient oversight even as the accident ignited a political blame-game between the central and state governments.
The civic body’s role came under criticism after it admitted that inspectors had visited the building, which housed at least five units manufacturing bags, plastic toys and jackets, only last week and found its upper floors locked – but left without taking any action, or sealing the building.
Two fires – one in March in the same building, and the other in a structure 500m away on Saturday – should have sent alarm bells ringing, but the civic body took no steps.
The blaze, the Capital’s worst in two decades, also prompted Union housing and urban development minister Hardeep Puri to train his guns at the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government and allege that the city administration delayed clearance on a redevelopment plan.
“The devastating fire this morning points to the lapses that were allowed to continue with impunity,” the minister said.
The AAP government hit back, saying the minister had minted “false” claims to hide the corruption and inefficiency of the north civic body. “Did MCD ever report any matter to the police? Was any inspection ever
carried out?” the state government said in a statement. The north MCD is controlled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The building, located in a cramped neighbourhood with a single approach road and one door, was spread over 500 square metres on Rani Jhansi Road, which is notified as a ‘mixed land use’ street under the Zonal Development Plan of Delhi (2001).
“On this, only shops are allowed on the ground floor, but no factories on the basement or any floor of the building,” said a senior municipal corporation official, who didn’t want to be named.
“The ‘Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Second (Amendment) Bill, 2017, which provides immunity to shops in old Delhi and some other parts of the city from sealing till year 2020, also does not allow any factories, hazardous or otherwise,” the officer added.
In a mixed land use area, the civic body is responsible for issuing licences and cracking down on illegal businesses.
North MCD standing committee chairman Jai Prakash admitted that the building was illegal but said the owner never sought a commercial building plan sanction or licence.
“We came to know that the building was constructed before year 2005 and the owner took permission to build a residential structure but soon started commercial activities here. He never sought any commercial building plan sanction or factory licence, which would anyway not have been provided in the area,” he added.
Varsha Joshi, commissioner of the north MCD, said the building was inspected last week. “The upper floors were found locked. The officer [licensing inspector] would have gone back next week and issued a show-cause notice to the owner [Mohammad Rehan], but the tragic incident happened.”
It was not immediately clear what activities the inspector observed on the ground floor and if the details of the owner of the building -- who, reportedly ran the plastics and garments manufacturing unit with his two brothers -- were not available with the corporation.
Joshi defended the civic body, saying several illegal factories in this municipal ward had already been sealed, including some the vicinity of the factory.
But opposition parties were unimpressed. “How can the licensing inspector of the area not come to know that such a factory is running here? How do we believe that it was running without exchange of money for this long?” asked leader of opposition in the north DMC House, Surjeet Singh Pawar of the AAP.
A member of the Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee, who did not wish to be named, said the concerned civic body is responsible for checking illegal activities in areas under its jurisdiction. “These structures are old and many such illegal units have been operating from these areas. The corporation must have taken note and timely action.”