Two kitchens in the basement and terrace, no smoke alarms, no signage directing guests to the emergency exit, obstruction on the way to the exit — these are some of the shortcomings highlighted by Delhi Police in its FIR filed in connection with the blaze at Karol Bagh’s Hotel Arpit Palace, which claimed 17 lives early Tuesday morning.
The FIR, against unnamed persons, was registered on a complaint by sub-inspector Shri Narayan. Two people have been arrested so far — hotel general manager Rajendra Kumar (47) and assistant manager Vikas Kumar (21).
According to police, the latter was on night duty at the hotel when the fire broke out. “There was no signage directing guests to the emergency exit… The security guard on night shift closed the exit gate at 2.30 am — which he did every night before opening it around 7 am,” said an officer.
Police, in their FIR, said the wooden circular staircase and upholstery on the walls caught fire easily and that smoke travelled upwards through the lift shafts next to the stairs. “They (hotel) also (set up) an illegal fibre-made temporary kitchen on their terrace, apart from running an illegal kitchen in the basement,” it states.
During questioning, Vikas told police that the fire broke out in room 109 around 3 am. He said a hotel staffer alerted them to the incident, and he took supervisor Lal Chand to the room to extinguish it. However, the pillows and bedsheets caught fire and the blaze quickly spread. “Inflammable material used in the rooftop restaurant, walls and partitions” added to its intensity, said an officer who was part of the questioning team.
However, forensic experts who inspected the spot believe the fire broke out in room 107 as the whole room was gutted, a police officer said.
Vikas claimed that 11 other staffers came to his aid and alerted guests. “Chand was asking guests to get out of the rooms… he was trapped on the corridor of the fourth floor. Vikas panicked as they failed to douse the fire and called the fire department at 4.35 am,” the officer said.
Rajendra told police that he was at his Uttam Nagar residence when Vikas called him, and he immediately rushed to the spot. “The owner, Rakesh Goel, never visited the hotel… he coordinated with them over the phone,” a police officer said.
Following directions from Delhi Police chief Amulya Patnaik, the case has been transferred to the Crime Branch, which has taken the two men into custody.
“So far, we have found that all licences of the hotel were in the name of the owner’s elder brother, Sharbendu Goel, who is absconding. The manager told us Rakesh had gone to Doha for vacation,” said DCP (central) M S Randhawa. Police are likely to initiate proceedings to issue a lookout circular.
Meanwhile, district magistrate (central) Sandip J Jacques, who is conducting the inquiry into the incident, called officials from the fire department, police, the sub-divisional magistrate of Karol Bagh, power department, civic department and the arrested accused for an inspection of the spot on Thursday morning.
Court seeks police report
Sending the two men arrested in connection with the Karol Bagh fire to two-day police custody, Metropolitan Magistrate Shilpi Jain Wednesday sought a report from police on steps usually taken to prevent such incidents in hotels.
“… This court deems it fit to call a report from the Joint Commissioner of Police of area concerned on steps taken to prevent such incidents in hotels… lapses on part of police at local- and district-level which facilitated the running of the present hotel in violation of the norms and by-laws along with action initiated, if any, against errant officials,” said MM Jain. ENS