‘No safety gear, fire alarm, escape route’, says Delhi Police’s FIR
The blaze broke out at the five-storey building in Anaj Mandi early on Sunday, killing many of the 70 workers who slept on the floor at night. The police said they were still looking for clues to ascertain the cause of the fire.Updated: Dec 10, 2019 07:15 IST
There was no firefighting equipment, panic alarm, accessible emergency exit, or other safety measures at the old Delhi building gutted in a devastating inferno that killed 43 workers of an illegal factory, the Delhi Police’s FIR said on Monday, even as the victims’ families tried to come to terms with the worst such tragedy in two decades.
The blaze broke out at the five-storey building in Anaj Mandi early on Sunday, killing many of the 70 workers who slept on the floor at night. The police said they were still looking for clues to ascertain the cause of the fire.
“An inspection found that in such a big building, there was no panic alarm and no safety measures, and for an emergency, there was no exit route,” said a statement by head constable Akbar Abbas, who is the complainant in the case. An exit leading to the rear of the building was found to be locked from the outside and its staircase completely blocked with goods.
The FIR noted that the ground floor had large quantities of cardboard sheets and the first floor was filled with mirror frames among other things. “On the second floor, mirror frames and cardboard sheets were fully gutted. On the third floor, sewing machines and rolls of burnt cloth were found. The fourth floor contained sewing machines and materials used for making bags,” Abbas’s statement said.
Sunil Kumar, a fireman who was among the first responders, said that a considerable portion of the accessible staircase was filled with manufacturing material. “We had to put out the fire on the stairs and that took time,” he said.
Kumar said that when he reached the staircase on the third floor, he found an iron gate that was locked from the inside. “We used a lock-cutter to break open the lock. It took us 10 minutes and that delayed our rescue. When we broke open the gate, people were lying unconscious all around,” Kumar added. The FIR said that when the local police team reached the spot after receiving the call at 5.22am, it found the building’s second, third and fourth floors ablaze and, “a lot of flames and smoke emanating from the windows”. “The flames and smoke create a lot of problems in the rescue operation,” the FIR read. It quoted the person who made the first call to report the incident as saying: “A house is on fire. It is not clear whether or not anyone is injured.”
The fire department said they, too, received a similar call about a fire in a house, rather than one in a factory, which prompted an underprepared initial response. “We had sent only four fire tenders at the beginning,” said Atul Garg, director, Delhi Fire Services. The head constable called for reinforcements and asked senior officers to be informed. Soon, ambulances and other rescue teams arrived at the scene. The rescue operation went on for three-and-a-half hours, according to the FIR. The policeman said that the eyewitnesses and injured persons were too frightened to describe the incident. “A forensic team couldn’t pick exhibits from the spot because parts of the building were very hot,” Abbas said.
A team from the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) visited the site on Monday and collected samples from the building.
While officials said more arrests could follow in the case, a Delhi court sent to two-week police custody the owner and manager of the illegal manufacturing unit. Metropolitan magistrate Manoj Kumar sent Rehan and Furkan to custody after the police said their remand was required to ascertain the role of other accused in the incident that took place in the congested area where building laws and civic rules are commonly violated. The police have arrested the two and registered a case under Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and Section 285 (negligent conduct with respect to fire) of the Indian Penal Code. The case has been transferred to the crime branch.
During the hearing, the police told the court that factories operated at the property without any clearance from authorities. They said three owners of the building had sublet the property to different people, whose roles were being investigated.
“It is a sensitive case. Most of the deceased were from faraway places. The names and addresses of all the deceased have also not been identified yet. It is a lengthy process. Rehan and Furkan are childhood friends and they are doing business together since 2003. Police custody of both the accused is necessary. Otherwise justice won’t be done,” the police said in court.
Politicians, meanwhile, continued to trade blame. Delhi Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Manoj Tiwari said a “fact-finding committee” of his party will probe the tragic fire incident and alleged that Rehan was an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) member. The AAP rejected the allegation. “People from the area are giving information that Rehan is allegedly the parliamentary representative (Sansad Pratinidhi) of Hon’ble MP Manoj Tiwari. Would request Mr. Tiwari to please explain and clarify his relationship with him?” AAP leader Raghav Chadha tweeted.
Tiwari said the death of 43 workers in Anaj Mandi was a matter of “negligence”. He said it was not an accident but “murder”. The North Delhi Municipal Corporation has said the factory is illegal. The Anaj Mandi area, which was originally residential, was declared “mix land use” in 2006 — only commercial activities such as grocery stores and “household” industries (employing not more than nine people and using not more than 11 kW power) are allowed.
Outside the mortuary of the Maulana Azad Medical College, sobbing relatives of the victims could be seen waiting to collect their bodies. Some of them were involved in a heated exchange with hospital authorities over how to transport the bodies of the deceased to their hometowns.
“We are not happy about travelling by train. Train would stop at Samastipur station and our village Barijana is another 70km from there,” said Mohammad Shamshir from Begusarai, Bihar. Shamshir’s neighbour Naveen Kumar, 19, died in the fire and he is here to collect his body.