After a November fire claimed two lives, the Surat Municipal Corporation had conducted a drive to check coaching classes for fire safety compliance. However the rooftop establishment on Takshashila Complex escaped the radar because it “did not fit the definition of a coaching class”.
SMC Deputy Municipal Commissioner NV Upadhyay said, “Following the fire, inspection on 252 tuition classes were initiated. By January-end, 185 were issued show-cause notices. Subsequently, those issued notices worked on the directives of the fire department and complied with them. Three were shifted out as they were incapable of compliance due to factors such as location.”
As reported by The Indian Express in December, the SMC fire department had sealed seven tuition centres in Surat for lack of compliance with fire safety norms.
The Takshashila Complex comprises a ground floor, mezzanine floor, first floor, second floor and a top floor covered by a dome, which was a duplex. The first three floors of the building had shops and offices and the top floor duplex housed a gymnasium and spaces where summer classes were conducted. A fashion designing course, a personality development course and other courses were offered as summer classes. One of those for class X and class XII was being run by one Bhargav Patel. Owners of two other coaching classes for design and architecture have not been identified. The top floor also housed a vedic maths coaching centre run by a certain Rajeev Patel.
Entry to and exit from all the floors was at the back of the building and through a wooden staircase.
Upadhyay says, “The fourth floor of Takshashila complex houses Aloha (a tutoring centre for vedic mathematics) that does not fall under the definition of a coaching class.” This meant that the centre was not checked for fire safety compliance during the December-January period, nor was any notice issued.
Takshashila Complex had been granted a Building Use (BU) permit in 2001, when it was under the Surat Urban Development Authority limits. Notably, the permit was granted for a G+3 (ground floor plus three other floors) structure.
The developer subsequently constructed a fourth floor. With the area eventually being brought under SMC jurisdiction, the owner of the building applied for approval of its fourth floor construction under the “impact fee” regulation, whereby a fee is paid for inspection and approval of the already constructed floor.
“The impact fee regulation proposal was approved in 2014,” said Upadhyay, “but the question needs to be asked how the impact fee regulation (approval) was done, given the dome-like closed space structure.”
The question is also pertinent because the building had just a single point of entry and exit, that too through a wooden staircase, to the upper floors.
Surat Police Commissioner Satish Sharma, told The Indian Express that the fire is suspected have started either from an air conditioner compressor or some electrical equipment in (one of) the classes. The fire then spread through the wooden stairway, which connected the third floor to the terrace, where the classes were being held. It also reached the bottom of the building, burning down two-wheelers parked around the building. “The entire wooden stairway burned down leaving no escape route for the students, due to which they began jumping out of the window to escape” Sharma added.