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No panic alarm, emergency exit locked: Glaring safety violations fuelled Hotel Arpit Palace fire

According to an FIR filed by the police, there was no panic alarm at the hotel that could have warned guests and staff about the fire. The complaint also said that the lone emergency exit at the hotel was closed, blocking evacuations once the blaze began

delhi Updated: Feb 14, 2019 08:52 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
A sealed door of the Hotel Arpit Palace where a massive fire broke out on Feb 12, 2019, at Karol Bagh in New Delhi.
A sealed door of the Hotel Arpit Palace where a massive fire broke out on Feb 12, 2019, at Karol Bagh in New Delhi.(Biplov Bhuyan/HT Photo )
         

A manhunt continued on Wednesday for the owner of a budget hotel in Karol Bagh where 17 people were killed in a major fire a day earlier, as officials across agencies — Delhi Police, fire department, and municipal corporation — pointed out glaring safety violations that aggravated the tragedy in the densely populated area of the national capital.

A Delhi court sent two accused — general manager Rajender and manager Vikash — to two days’ police custody, even as the owner of the building, Shardendu Goel, remained absconding after the incident, the police said.

According to an FIR filed by the police, there was no panic alarm at the hotel that could have warned guests and staff about the fire. The complaint also said that the lone emergency exit at the hotel was closed, blocking evacuations once the blaze began.

The victims of the fire at Hotel Arpit Palace, suspected to have been triggered by an electrical short-circuit early on Tuesday, included an Indian Revenue Service officer and a chef who tried to escape by jumping off the five-storey building.

Read | Why fire at Karol Bagh’s Arpit Palace hotel claimed 17 lives?

On Wednesday, officials pointed out civic and planning neglect in the area, which has several other hotels that are under the scanner for possible fire and safety violations. While building by-laws do not apply in Karol Bagh’s busy commercial area as it is to be developed as a “business district”, the new notifications are stuck in limbo.

“Markets such as Chandni Chowk, Sadar Bazaar and commercial areas of Karol Bagh were to be developed as business districts. We have prepared the development control norms for these areas,” said Shamsher Singh, former chief town planner of south and north corporations. He worked on the redevelopment plan for the area.

North corporation mayor Adesh Gupta said the Delhi government is yet to notify the plan. “We had sent the plan to the Delhi government in 2017. They raised a few objections and sought clarification of certain aspects of the plan, which we had clarified. But they are yet to notify it due to which we are not able to take up planned development of the area,” Gupta said.

Officials of the Delhi government could not be reached for a response.

The hotel is located about 300 metres from the Karol Bagh metro station and has 48 rooms, of which 45 are offered to guests while the rest are used as offices, the police said. There were around 55 guests occupying 40 rooms and about a dozen staff members when the fire broke out.

The hotel’s owner, who is on the run, has been booked under Indian Penal Code sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide).

A fire department official said while inspections are conducted and clearance certificates issued every three years, annual inspections are not conducted, allowing many property owners to make illegal modifications following approvals. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the fire department spotted many modifications to the design submitted at the time of the last inspection, which was held in December 2017.

Some of the fire safety violations found at the hotel were: heavy use of smoke-causing material such as asbestos; use of compressed sawdust in woodwork that can cause flames to spread; fire exit were locked every night; ventilation outlets were blocked by design changes; hose pipes were not connected to sources of water, and fire extinguishers were not functional.

The FIR mentioned several other violations, including unauthorised operation of a restaurant on the rooftop and the lack of safety signage at crucial points in the building.

More than 36 hours after the fire, one of the deceased was yet to be identified. The rooftop restaurant’s supervisor, Lal Chand, was still missing a day after the accident. His son Himanshu said he checked all bodies but could not identify Chand.

First Published: Feb 14, 2019 08:52 IST