Maharashtra govt orders judicial probe into Kamala Mills fire, land misuse by mill owners in Mumbai

Updated on Feb 28, 2018 11:07 AM IST

The inquiry committee will be headed by a retired judge of Bombay high court, CM Devendra Fadnavis told state Assembly on Tuesday

The Kamala Mills fire on December 29, 2017, claimed 14 lives.(HT File Photo)
The Kamala Mills fire on December 29, 2017, claimed 14 lives.(HT File Photo)
Hindustan Times | ByHT Correspondent, Mumbai

The Maharashtra government has announced a judicial probe into the Kamala Mills fire, the alleged violation of Floor Space Index (FSI) rules, and the misuse of land by textile mills owners in the city.

The inquiry committee will be headed by a retired judge of the Bombay high court and will include a retired secretary of the urban development department and an architect, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis told the state Assembly on Tuesday. The probe report will be tabled in the state legislature, he said.

In response to a PIL in the Bombay high court, Fadnavis said the government has decided to constitute an inquiry committee, which will probe the cause of fire at Kamala Mills, the violation of FSI allotted to mills in Mumbai and misuse of land. He also announced the government has come across violation of the FSI allotted for IT firms on mill land and a probe panel will probe this, too. He said loss of revenue to the government will be recovered and action will be taken against the people responsible.

Fadnavis slammed the Opposition, Congress-NCP, for changing policy and depriving mill workers from rightful houses on such land. “Until 1999, mills owners were compelled to surrender one-third of the land to BMC and to Mhada for housing. The rules were tweaked in 2001 as a result of which the BMC and Mhada did not get even an inch of the usable 50,000 sqm at Kamala Mills. We changed the rules again, but by then the private mills had been developed,” he said.

According to rough estimates by the mill workers’ organisation, the change in rules meant at least 45,000 fewer houses. “We would have got 200 acres on which we were expecting 70,000 tenements. It was reduced to 70 acres and the government could built only 24,000 houses,” said Datta Iswalkar, president, Girni Kamgar Sangharsh Samiti.

“ It is not that the new government is working in favour of the workers. It has announced it will change the DCR again, but the resolution has not been received even after six months of the announcement. Many mills have been using the premises for commercial activities by keeping the mill structure intact to pretend that they continue with the mills business and there was no need to transfer the land to the government. Why did the BMC not act against them,” he said.

Although the CM did not clarify whether the probe will be under the Commission of Inquiry Act, sources from the Law and Judiciary Department said the decision will be taken at the time of framing the terms of reference of the probe. The official also said that even if it was not brought under the gamut of the Act, the government has the power to call it a judicial probe.

Following the fire on December 29, BMC commissioner Ajoy Mehta had submitted a detailed inquiry report hinting at the misuse of FSI given as perks under the IT policy. The BMC had asked for three months to probe the details and verify it. The fire, which broke at Mojo’s Bistro and later spread to adjoining 1Above, killed 14 people. The inquiry had revealed large-scale construction irregularities and violation of safety norms.

Earlier, BJP MLA Ashish Shelar alleged some of the mills sub-divided their plots to escape handing them over to the BMC and Mhada. He also alleged that the mills misused FSI allotted for IT establishments, leading to a Rs500-crore scam. He demanded an inquiry into the FSI violation and change of use.

Fadnavis said the mills used an FSI of 95,000 sqm obtained under a policy to promote IT after the then government changed the rules in 2007. He said the BMC and Mhada failed to recover their share of benefits from the mills. “We will recover the loss and initiate action against the people responsible,” he said.

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