The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) gave a clean chit to its officials for the fire that broke out in the Deonar dumping ground on January 28. With subsequent pocket fires continuing to blaze for weeks afterwards, the BMC has blamed the contractor for not carrying out the work it was supposed to do.
A 219-page inquiry report submitted by deputy municipal commissioner Kiran Acharekar to municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta says the supervision work was given to officials of the solid waste management (SWM) department and it is evident from the site memo or correspondence that they issued showcause notices many times.
In May, 2012, the contractor’s failure to work as per the contract was brought to the notice of the then civic chief and there was a move to terminate the contract. So, there seems to be no negligence or mistake on the part of officials, states the report.
The inquiry was ordered after the fire in January, which was large enough to be visible on satellite images, went on for a week and smoke spread across the city impacting the air quality.
According to the report, the responsibility of dousing the fire was with the contractor. “Between December 2009, and January 2016, major fires were reported in 2012, 2015 and 2016. Prior to 2009, the BMC was using its system and managing the dumping ground. As per records available, no such big fires were reported then,” says the report.
It adds that methane, which is created due to garbage, is one of the major causes of the fire. Other include combustible material, increase in temperature and wind direction. The contractor was supposed to control the methane on priority and take it out through pipes which was not done, leading to the fire.
However, the report adds that P Rahangdale, the chief fire officer, should have been alert about fires since major ones were reported in 2012 and 2015. Rahangdale’s reasoning of bad roads for the delay in dousing the blaze is not acceptable, the report states.
Mahesh Narvekar, chief officer of disaster management, said no separate disaster management plan has been made for the Deonar dumping ground. “Fire at the dumping ground is a disaster and an independent plan should have been made. So, why plan was not prepared is inexplicable,” the report remarks.
Also, the contractor failed in preventing anti-social elements from entering the dumping ground and interfering with the lighting system and the fire fighting system, in constructing a compound wall, and in garbage management. From the safety point of view, the MPCB issued directions regularly but the contractor did not act on it, it adds.
The report also points out that there was a vague mention in the contract about security and fire safety systems. “It was not clearly mentioned about the kind of measures to be taken and the number of security guards to be deployed. So, action could not be taken against the contractor. Dogs, cows, buffaloes, rag pickers and other persons used to roam on the dumping ground. So, it is clear that adequate security arrangement was not made by the contractor,” states the report.
The report talks about the tenders awarded to the contractor in 2009. For not carrying out the closure work of dumping ground, a provision of Rs 50,000 penalty per day was made in the contract. “At the same time, contractor was paid Rs 225 per tonne for receiving the garbage. So, on an average, BMC might have paid Rs 12 lakh to the contractor. So comparatively, the penalty was negligible. This condition of the contract was one sided and beneficial to the contractor,” it states.