The Delhi hotel, where 17 people died in a blaze on February 12, was operating without any approved building plan since it opened in 1993, and its owner had “managed” licences over the years with the “connivance” of officials, a Delhi government magisterial inquiry has found.
The inquiry, undertaken by Deputy Commissioner (Central) Sandeep Jacques, castigates the municipal corporation, Delhi Police and Delhi Fire Services (DFS), and recommends “major departmental” action against all officials involved in carrying out inspections and issuing licences over the years. The Indian Express has learnt that the report is currently with Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. The inquiry was ordered after an early morning blaze had ripped through the four-storey, 46-room Hotel Arpit Palace in Karol Bagh.
One of the major findings of the inquiry is the fact that the hotel was running since 1993 without any approved or sanctioned building plan from the erstwhile united municipal corporation, which means licences and renewals over the years were granted to an illegal structure, official sources at the Delhi Secretariat said. Jacques was not available for comment.
“The question of licences comes only after one gets a building plan sanctioned. That was missing and subsequently it not only obtained licences, but also got them renewed from multiple agencies over the years,” a source said. For a guesthouse or hotel to operate in Delhi, it needs a health licence from the local civic body, a trade licence from the Delhi Police and a fire safety certificate from the DFS.
In this case, the fire NOCs were granted “without actually carrying out any inspection” or “the owner managed it with connivance with officials of DFS”, the report states. The fire NOCs are supposed to be renewed every three years and Hotel Arpit Palace had last obtained an NOC on December 28, 2017.
“The owner lied that the fifth floor was not being utilised as he wanted to ensure that the height of the structure remains below 15 metres officially. Once it crosses 15 metres, norms are much more stringent. But clearly the inspections were a complete hogwash as they also overlooked the use of combustible designer material. The affidavits filed by the owner were accepted at face value,” a senior official said.
The report absolved the excise department of any culpability, saying the excise licence was for a restaurant, having a separate fire NOC, which was being run on the ground floor of the hotel and had a separate entrance and exit.
While issuing NOCs, DFS is supposed to check around 12 parameters, including access to building, arrangement of exits, smoke management system, fire extinguishers, first-aid hose reels, public address system and automatic sprinkler system.
The report recommends “major departmental action against all the officers in whose time the building came up, the initial licences and the subsequent renewals were issued”. After the CM vets the report, it is likely to be sent to the L-G as the MCD commissioners and police come under him. Incidentally, the hotel falls under the jurisdiction of the Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act which came into effect in 2006. The Act 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.