Investigation into the fire at a five-storey building in Old Delhi’s Anaj Mandi, which killed 43 people, has revealed that the owner, Mohammad Rehan, had illegally constructed two floors in 2008 and had rented out each floor and individual rooms to 13 people. He charged between Rs 8,000-10,000 per month from each tenant, three of whom also died in the blaze.
Rehan was arrested from his relative’s house as he was allegedly trying to leave the city, and on Monday his custody was granted to the special investigation unit (SIU) of the Crime Branch, police said.
“During questioning, he disclosed that he has two brothers and two step-brothers. He and his brothers co-own the building that caught fire. He bought it in 2004 and illegally constructed the top two floors without laying a lintel. He claimed that both floors were constructed in a span of 15 days, allegedly with the connivance of local engineers of the civic body and local police,” a senior police officer said.
Police are verifying his claims and have written to the North municipal body, asking them to provide the chain of property documents, ownership documents, construction permits and details of tax slips.
Said to be residential on paper, the building illegally housed several manufacturing units operating from inside small rooms. During questioning, 40-year-old Rehan also said that his brother-in-law was a tenant in the same building and that he shared the rent with his brothers. “He also told us he owned similar units in other buildings in the area, but claimed that minors were not employed in his building,” an officer said. At least five of the 43 dead were minors.
On Monday, a team of the Delhi Police crime branch and forensic science laboratory (FSL) officials inspected the spot and collected samples from the building.
Rehan, along with building manager Mohammad Furqan (39), was Monday sent to police custody for 14 days by a Delhi court. Police said both men are childhood friends and have been working together since 2003.
“Forty-three innocent people have died in this blaze. It is a very sensitive issue… We arrested them (the two men) yesterday and we need their custody, otherwise it would amount to injustice,” Vijay Kumar, the investigating officer in the case, told the court.
During investigation, police found that even on each floor, there were several different manufacturing units let out to different owners — while some made caps, others made plastic toys, jackets and rexine bags.
Metropolitan Magistrate Manoj Kumar, in his order, said that considering the enormity of the incident, the court was satisfied that thorough investigation and custody of the accused was necessary.
A team of five from the FSL reached the Anaj Mandi building at 12:30 pm and inspected the charred structure for two hours. An officer said, “We have collected samples from the building, including raw material, cooking utensils, and electric appliances used by the labourers.”
Locals claimed that several such buildings were illegally running out of the lane, which till the 1990s, was home to grain mills and residences. When The Indian Express visited the area on Monday, most of the buildings were locked, as were retail shops running in the lane.
Mitran Ahmed (53), who runs a pharmacy, said, “I opened my shop in the morning and saw a number of people leaving their houses. When I asked them, they told me they were scared because of the fire. After they heard that 43 people died, they decided to temporarily shift to their friends or families’ homes.”
Abdul (60), a resident, said, “Most of the buildings here were made for residential purposes… But there are some building owners who rent out entire floors to manufacturing units. Most of these factories make plastic toys and other items. There are some garment factories as well. In smaller buildings, people charge factory owners Rs 5,000-Rs 10,000 for one floor.”
After visiting the spot, police said that prima facie, it appears there was a short circuit, which led to the fire. Police have sent a letter to the power company, asking for details of their electricity meter. They have also asked the CBI and FSL to visit the scene.