Illegal structures being demolished by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation on Saturday.(BMC handout)
Illegal structures being demolished by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation on Saturday.(BMC handout)

After Kamala Mills fire kills 14, Mumbai civic body kick-starts demolition drive, safety audit

The fire at two pubs at Kamala Mills has raised concerns over fire-safety norms in Mumbai’s commercial hubs and put pressure on the civic body.
Hindustan Times | By HT Correspondent, Mumbai
UPDATED ON DEC 30, 2017 02:32 PM IST

A day after a devastating blaze at two upscale restrobars claimed 14 lives, the Shiv Sena-led Mumbai civic body ordered fire safety audits of all restaurants in the city and demolished illegal structures at six places on Saturday.

With New Year’s Eve celebrations just hours away, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation chief Ajoy Mehta asked his officials to inspect adherence to fire safety norms in the restaurants before parties get started on Sunday night.

The BMC on Friday suspended five officials for dereliction of duty after it was accused of turning a blind eye to violation of safety norms in the Kamala Mills compound in Lower Parel, a commercial hub in central Mumbai that housed the two ill-fated restaurants --Mojo’s Bistro and 1Above.

The central Mumbai area -- a former textile mill district now dotted by swanky glass-and-concrete towers -- had witnessed death of 23 people in a stampede at a railway bridge on September 29 this year.

There are about 8000 restaurants in Mumbai, of which roughly 60% are bars and pubs. Thousands of people are expected to throng these places for New Year’s Eve parties.

Speaking to HT, Mehta said: “My full force will be out on field, and do all it takes to inspect every restaurant before Sunday night.”

The officials will check whether entrances to the restaurants are spacious enough, whether they have fire exits, if they have encroached upon an open space, such as a balcony, among other safety measures, civic body sources said.

All deputy municipal commissioners and assistant municipal commissioners (ward officer) have been asked to carry out the inspections that will also focus on illegal structures apart from violation of fire-safety norms.

If any restaurant is found flouting rules, it will not be allowed to operate on the New Year’s Eve, the sources said.

On Saturday morning, The civic body carried out the demolition drives at Lower Parel and Worli by pulling down structures in the eateries which were constructed illegally.

Pappa Roti, Drifters, Old Wild West are some of the restaurants in Kamala mills whose illegal structures were razed on Saturday. BMC officials said the drive will continue.

After Friday’s fire, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis ordered Mehta to conduct a high-level probe and pin responsibility on the guilty.

Mehta will lead the probe into the fire. He said, “I have not appointed anyone, I will lead this probe as per chief minister’s order,” he said.

Arvind Sawant, a Shiv Sena MP from south Mumbai, said a no-confidence motion against BMC chief Mehta should be brought in after the Kamala Mill tragedy.

Meanwhile, the fire brigade officials said they were probing whether flames during a fire stunt by a bartender, burning coal used for hookah or a short circuit led to the tragedy that also left many injured.

Most of the 14 victims of the fire that started after 12.30am died of asphyxiation.

“We are probing if the flames created during a fire stunt by a bartender at the pub came in contact with plastic sheets that covered the bamboo structure and triggered the blaze. We are also trying to find out whether the burning coal used for hookah at the adjacent restaurant led to the tragedy,” a fire official said.

All other possibilities, including that of short circuit is also being probed, he added.

The police have booked Hratesh Sanghvi, Jigar Sanghvi and Abhijeet Manka of C Grade Hospitality, which manages the pub, along with others, under IPC sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) and 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others).

After the fire, some escaped to safety, while others found their way blocked by fire and suffocating smoke. Many panicked patrons took shelter in a toilet, where they were asphyxiated to death.

Among those killed was Khushbu Bansali, the woman who was celebrating her 29th birthday at ‘1 Above’ pub in upscale Parel’s Kamala Mill compound, and several of her friends.

(With PTI inputs)

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