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Surat fire toll rises to 22, one held

Police said Butani was present at the institute when the fire broke out, possibly because of a short-circuit in the basement of the building, and engulfed the only wooden staircase leading to the third and fourth floors.

india Updated: May 25, 2019 22:26 IST
Hiral Dave
Hiral Dave
Hindustan Times, Surat
Surat,Bharat Butani,IPC
“Butani was among those who jumped off. He received some injuries on his hands,” said commissioner Sharma.(Ht Photo)

The police on Saturday arrested the owner of a coaching centre where a fire the previous day killed at least 22 teenaged students, and were looking for the builders of the commercial complex where it is located, as families of the victims mourned their dead and authorities in Gujarat and other states took stock of fire safety measures in schools.

Bharat Butani, 26, owner of Smart Design Studio, which tutored students in arts and crafts, was arrested, while builders Harshul Vekaria and Jignesh Paliwal are on the run, Surat police commissioner Satish Sharma said after the police registered an FIR against the three men under sections of IPC for culpable homicide. Surat Municipal Corporation’s (SMC) estate department said the top two floors of the building were illegally constructed.

Police said Butani was present at the institute when the fire broke out, possibly because of a short-circuit in the basement of the building, and engulfed the only wooden staircase leading to the third and fourth floors. With the exit blocked, 15 students jumped to the ground.

“Butani was among those who jumped off. He received some injuries on his hands,” said commissioner Sharma.

The SMC suspended two fire services officials on complaints that the fire brigade responded late to the fire that broke out at the Taxshila Complex. SMC officials said the two also failed to give notice to the building when a city-wise survey of fire safety measures was conducted four months back after a fire broke out at another coaching institute.

Friday’s fire prompted Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani to order a fire safety audit of schools, colleges and coaching centres across the state. Coaching institutes remained closed in major Gujarat cities as the authorities began one of the biggest inspections of such centres. Civic authorities in cities such as Kota in Rajasthan, famous as a hub of coaching schools for aspiring technology students, also ordered similar audits.

Two students who jumped off the building to escape the fire died in hospital on Saturday. Surat police spokesperson and assistant commissioner of police P L Chaudhari identified the two, both teenagers, as Karnavi Sitapara and Dhruvi Ribadiya.

“As per the latest information, two girls have died today, taking the toll to 22, including 18 girls and four teenage boys. A child, about 3-4 years old, received burn injuries and is currently hospitalised,” said ACP Chaudhari.

“A majority of the victims were in the age bracket of 17-18,” he said.

At the city’s Ashwini Kumar crematorium, families and friends of the first 20 students who died gathered to perform their last rites. Nineteen had died in the fire and one, Happy Panchali, jumped off the building.

Many eyewitnesses maintained that the fire brigade took more than half an hour to reach the spot, although the distance between the fire station and the building was only 2 km. The fire brigade denied the charges. “We received a call at 4.02 pm and the first vehicle was here by 4.07 pm,” an official said. The fire broke out shortly after 3.30 pm.

A team led by urban development principal secretary Mukesh Puri visited the site on Saturday to begin a probe. The building has been sealed, Puri said.

First Published: May 25, 2019 22:25 IST