Kamala Mills fire: Officials knew about illegalities, says former Mumbai police commissioner

Top cop says corrupt Mumbai officials must be suspended, not transferred

mumbai Updated: Jan 12, 2018 23:11 IST
Megha Sood
Megha Sood
Hindustan Times
Kamala Mills fire,Julio Ribeiro,Khalistan Commando Force
Ribeiro has sought an audit of eateries across all BMC wards.(HT File)

Julio Ribeiro, the 1953 batch officer and former Mumbai police commissioner, who went on to become the director general of police of Gujarat and later Punjab, and was also the Indian ambassador to Romania, needs little introduction.

At 89, Ribeiro’s demeanour bears no indication of the two assassination attempts that the Khalistan Commando Force made on him. Working at an office in the basement of Mahalaxmi Chambers, he no longer fights militants, but the corrupt administration. He recently filed a public interest litigation in the Bombay high court, following the fire that gutted two upmarket restaurants in the Kamala Mills compound and killed 14.

He said corruption, which is prevalent across departments and among officials occupying topmost positions and even the lowest rungs, is responsible for incidents such as the fire.

“I got a call from an NGO that runs a hospital for the underprivileged. BMC officials had visited the hospital to check fire and safety norms, and had told the NGO members that they would issue a ‘clear’ certificate if they paid Rs35,000,” he said.

When the hospital authorities agreed to comply, officials gave them a long list of norms, along with the address and number of a company that could carry out the work, he said. The hospital authorities, however, floated a tender, getting the work done at half the cost.

Ribeiro, who has sought an audit of eateries across all BMC wards, said the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act, 2006, mandates that a fire officer inspect the premise of each eatery and issue certificates twice a year — in January and July. He said none of these inspections were carried out.

“We prosecute people who give bribes, but we also need to prosecute those who take bribes. What is the point of transferring an officer from one ward to another? He is likely to repeat his actions in the next ward too. Such officials should be suspended,” he said.

He said BMC officials demolished 300 illegal structures and sealed many eateries a day after the fire.

“This indicates that officials, of the fire department or the building proposals department, were complicit. They know about all the illegalities, but choose to turn a blind eye for pecuniary gains. They are the actual culprits,” he said.

The way forward is for citizens to say ‘We will not tolerate this’, he added.

First Published: Jan 12, 2018 23:08 IST