Two years after Kamala Mills fire, city restaurant patrons still at risk?

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Published on Dec 29, 2019 12:49 AM IST
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ByMehul R Thakkar, Mumbai

Two years since the deadly fire at two posh restaurants in the Kamala Mills compound at Lower Parel claimed 14 lives, authorities say they are improving monitoring mechanisms to prevent such an incident happening again. However, Mumbaiites feel not enough is being done to ensure fire safety compliance.

On December 29, 2017, a massive fire broke out at restaurant Mojo Bistro, around 12.30am, after flying embers from a hookah came in contact with the combustible cloth curtains at the establishment. The fire then rapidly spread to an unauthorised thatched roof at another restaurant, 1Above. “We have been regularly conducting inspection drives to check fire safety compliance at establishments and have been issuing notices over non-compliance. Recently, we also identified several establishments that will be inspected for fire-safety compliance,” Prabhat Rahangdale, chief fire officer, Mumbai Fire Brigade (MFB), said.

Devendra Golhar, the medical officer of health of G south ward, which consists of the areas around the Kamala Mills compound, said, the civic body had conducted a meeting with the owners of restaurants within the ward over fire safety.

“We have been conducting inspection drives consistently for the past two years and have been issuing notices for rectification. Before Christmas, we held a meeting with the restaurant owners’ association over safety precautions. Another meeting will be held on New Year’s Eve. We are following due process to ensure that there is no non-compliance on the part of the restaurant owners,” said Golhar.

Despite assurances from authorities, fire norms are being flouted. On Thursday, HT had reported that MFB has found that around 56% of the total 10,800 establishments (restaurants, hotels, bars, malls, and gymkhanas) inspected by its personnel are not fire safety compliant.

Gurbaxish Kohli, vice-president of the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Association of India (FHRAI), which has around 4,000 restaurants as members, said, “We as an association have always advocated to complying the norms of all the authorities. But after the Kamala Mills incident, there is more awareness among patrons and hoteliers. Our association has been more conscious about safety and has been organising regular conferences and seminars, along with the authorities to raise awareness.” He believes that if the authorities consider the suggestions made by hoteliers and restaurateurs, there will be better results towards achieving safety.

Survivors of the tragedy say they have moved on after the incident, but cannot completely forget how the events unfolded that night. Forty-nine-year-old Kedar Gantha had suffered around 25% burns in the mishap and was confined to his house for around 13 months after the incident. He says his life started to normalise only nine months ago.

“We were around 150 people inside 1Above who were stranded during the blaze because the main exit was blocked, as the restaurant had used the space to store their goods. This just goes to show that there’s no value of human life. Even today, there are several establishments in the city which are not safe to visit. The authorities should conduct surprise checks to keep a tab on all those who violate fire safety norms,” he said.

“I have begun to step out of the house for business meetings as well as for social gatherings with family and friends. It was a difficult phase initially, but now things are getting normal,” he added. Another survivor, Sarojini Sharma, who had suffered around 18% burns, said the onus of keeping the establishments safe for patrons lies on the owners. “On the night of the incident, the exit doors of 1Above were shut, owing to which many patrons were trapped. Owners must ensure safety of their patrons,” she said. Sharma said her scars remind her of the tragedy often. “It was difficult and it still is, but from the past eight months, things have started to get normal for me. My scars from the injury obviously remind me of the incident. But I haven’t stopped living my life and go out on social visits at restaurants and other establishments.” For 26-year-old Rohit Goyal, a personnel of the Indian Coast Guard posted at Karnataka, the incident has made him more alert. “I have become more cautious and concerned about my safety. I check the exit points of the restaurants I visit,” said Goyal, who had suffered 25% burns.

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