MUMBAI: Fourteen people were trapped and killed and 55 injured in an inferno that tore within minutes through two rooftop restobars that were partly illegal, packed with revellers, in the upmarket hang-out of the Kamala Mills Compound, in Lower Parel early on Friday.
Police officials said that the blaze started around 12:30am in 1 Above, a restobar and swiftly spread to the canopied interiors of the adjacent Mojo’s Bistro, both located on the top floor of the three storeyed, L-shaped Trade House building. The rooftop section of the two eateries, separated by a partition, is accessible only through a narrow staircase till you get to the lift . The other arm of the L-shaped building houses five media houses, portions of which were also gutted by the time the fire was douzed by 6:30 am, nearly six hours after it had started. There are nearly 34 restaurants and bars in Kamala Mills, which is frequented by several people everyday.
“We have booked the three partners who owned 1 above as the fire started there. We have also booked the manager of the same eatery,” said said S Jaykumar, additional commissioner of police. Local ward officer said that the terrace section of 1 Above did not have any permission and they were also illegally known to be serving ‘hookah’. There was also an illegal toilet on the terrace (toward 1-Above side) and locked terrace door adjoining to it caused most of the tragedy.
BMC assistant municipal commissioner Prashant Sapkale, said that the BMC kept sending the two eateries notices for various violations and also illegally using the terrace to serve food and drinks without valid permissions. “In the months of March, May and August again we prosecuted them for using up the open terrace area. In fact in September this year even seizure action was taken. We had to demolish a few portions in August during the prosecution action as well,” said Sapkale. He also said that notices were given to these eateries for illegally serving hookah.
“As it appears to me that activity of unauthorized use of terrace premises in front of eating house for trade activity purpose and serving of hookah in the eating house without necessary permission from competent authority and its process/operation in/upon premises at above mentioned place by you is dangerous to life and health of general public and likely to create nusisance…..”reads the notice served to the two eateries which has been accessed by TOI.
Police said that they have registered an offence against these four under the IPC section of 304 culpable homicide not amounting to murder 337 causing hurt by act of endangering the life or personal safety of others and 338 causing grevious hurt by act of endangering life or personal safety of others. The partners Kripesh Sanghavi, Jigar Sanghavi and Abhijeet Mankar of Sigrid Ospitalia’s first hospitality venture.
Fire brigade officials who were a part of the fire fighting operations said that the fire spread within minutes due to the combustible material that was heavily used in the interiors. “The rooftop crashed and several parts of it which was made up of combustible materials were falling down which was making it difficult for people to escape as well for fire-fighting operations to continue,” said one of the fire officials. “The entry and exits were extremely narrow making it difficult for people to exit smoothly,” said a civic official.
The fire intensity was the highest in the bar area of the restaurant said fireman. “The exit routes probably were not very clear which completely made it difficult for the guests to escape. This will be further investigated,” said an official. Meanwhile two fireman ladders were used in the operations to bring down 30 people who had perched themselves in an open lobby on the other side of the building.
Eye witnesses said narrow staircase and also lack of clear exit doors were one of the many reasons were people were trapped.
“Many of the people were drunk and did not even realise that the fire would spread within minutes. It was only after I screamed did people start running. Many drunk patrons were bumping into the barricade, failing to comprehend what was happening around them. Many somehow managed to reach the exit but waited there looking for their friends and relatives, crowding the place,” said Pratik Thakur, 28, bussineman[BJ1] [BJ2] [BJ3] from Dadar who sustained injuries.
Thakur added, “My brother-in-law, Lokesh, said that people who were not able to escape from the exit went into the washroom. He was saying that the security guard inside the washroom was not letting people step out of it to prevent the fire from spreading inside. A DJ forced him to open the door and then him and my brother-in-law managed to escape. People inside the washroom may have been suffocated.”
Eye witnesses said that the fire may has started after spark from a live coal from a hookah pot came in contact with a cloth and then spread. Survivors also said that the bar staff was performing fire stunts on the bar table and that could have started the fire.
Police and fire brigade officials say that they are investigating the cause of fire, and are also investigating whether there was a short circuit that started the fire.
Meanwhile, in a knee jerk reaction the BMC has suspended five junior officials and one fire official for negligence towards illegal structures and Municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta also transferred ward officer of G-north ward Prashant Sakpale to K-east ward. Mehta has also launched an inquiry in the incident. The BMC has also sent a report on the incident to the state government stating that there was ‘gross negligence boarding on connivance’. The report further stated that the suspended failed to notice the violations and act against it which led to the incident.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis who visited the site on Friday afternoon and just spoke to the media persons without inspecting the damaged floors said that if it is proved that the BMC officials were purposefully shielding the owners of the restaurants by delaying action against them more officials will be suspended.
“The entire incident has put a question mark on the BMC’s recent policy to allow rooftop restaurants and bars. TOI asked Aaditya Thackeray, who visited the spot on Friday about it he said, “When that is implemented will be frame strict rules and care will be taken that rules are implemented to not have a repeat of such incidents,” said Thackeray.