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Friday, February 28, 2020

Karol Bagh hotel fire: When Act prevents action

Officials admit hotel violated norms, blame inaction on Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act

Written by Abhinav Rajput | New Delhi | Updated: February 14, 2019 9:42:45 am
The family of Aravinth Sukumaran, one of the victims. Sukumaran, who hailed from Chennai, was an employee at a garments export house. (Express photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

Members of the Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee, who inspected Karol Bagh’s Hotel Arpit Palace a day after Tuesday’s killer blaze, found blatant violations such as the height of the hotel being above the permissible 15 metres and the top floor being used for commercial purposes.

The early morning blaze at the five-storey, 46-room hotel had claimed 17 lives.

“There are extra floors constructed, the height is above 15 metres, and it appears the top floor was used commercially,” a monitoring committee member, who did not wish to be named, said.

Asked why such violations were only being flagged after a tragedy, and why no action was taken earlier, he said the monitoring committee cannot act against such establishments because of the Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act, which also applies to several other hotels that could be flouting norms.

The committee was behind the sealing drive conducted across Delhi last year.

The Act, which came into effect in 2006, prohibits sealing drives against unauthorised shops, factories and hotels that were built before that year. It has been extended five times, most recently till December 31, 2020.

The committee member said they had sealed five hotels in Karol Bagh in 2007, but the hotels approached an administrative tribunal and got the action reversed.

North MCD Mayor Adesh Gupta said that Hotel Arpit Palace, which came up in 1993, was an “unauthorised construction”, and was “booked” in 1993-1994, but the hotel continued operations — and practically enjoyed immunity once the Act came into effect in 2006.

A senior official in the central government’s Urban Development Ministry, however, said the authorities were using the Act as an excuse to not act against violators. “There are people dying due to their lapses. No rule is above the doctrine of common sense, and there should be action against unauthorised construction,” the official, who did not wish to be named, said.

Another member of the monitoring committee said that even if the Act came in the way of sealing the hotel, the civic body should have penalised the hotel for height violations and for illegally running commercial operations on the terrace.

Meanwhile, AAP councillors Wednesday raised slogans against Mayor Gupta and demanded his resignation. North body Standing committee member Vikas Goel said, “This is the biggest tragedy in Delhi since Uphaar. The MCD knew this is an unauthorised construction but did not take action. If they could not seal it due to special provisions, why did they allow the top floor to be used commercially? Someone must take moral responsibility.”

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