Five persons including a year-old baby girl were burnt alive and a dozen others were injured as a fire broke out in a three-storey hotel and spread to an adjacent hotel near Charbagh railway station in Lucknow Tuesday morning.
The owners of both hotels as well as staff fled soon after the fire broke out and are absconding, police said. Both owners have been booked under IPC sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 285 (negligent conduct with respect to fire or combustible matter), 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) and 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) and section 7 of the Criminal Law Amendment (CLA) Act.
Police suspect a short circuit in the basement started the fire at Hotel SSJ International, located on a congested street near Charbagh railway station. The blaze soon spread to other floors and then to Hotel Viraat International. Fourteen fire tenders took around four hours to douse the flames. All the deceased and injured were guests.
According to fire department officials, both hotels had fire safety equipment but none of it was used because the staff fled on spotting the flames. Neither of the hotels had No Objection Certificates (NOCs) from the fire department.
“The fire started at around 5 am. Around 16 people were taken to the hospital, and five of them lost their lives. The rest are undergoing treatment at different hospitals in the district,” said Naka police station in-charge, SSI Ashraful A Siddiqui. Prima facie, they suspect a short circuit in the basement of SSJ International caused the fire, but that is yet to be confirmed, he added.
“The staff of both SSJ International and Viraat International, including their respective owners Surendra Jaiswal and Arpit Jaiswal, are absconding. It is suspected that they are related and are residents of Lucknow,” said Siddiqui.
Lucknow Chief Fire Officer (CFO) Abhay Bhan Pandey told The Indian Express that they received the first call at 6.03 am, and two fire tenders had reached the spot by 6.10 am. “The fire had reached the top floor by then. More fire tenders were called. Fire Safety Officers (FSOs) of five fire stations also reached the spot with 12 more fire tenders.
There were around 55 people trapped in the hotel when the fire started. We saved as many as we could,” he added. Pandey further said, “Viraat International did not have an NOC. The SSJ International got its NOC in 2014 and it was last renewed in February 2016. An NOC needs to be renewed every year. The hotels had necessary fire safety equipment like an overhead water tank, pipeline, hose reel and smoke detectors. However, none of the equipment was used as the staff of both hotels ran away after the fire.”
The CFO said there were three consecutive blasts in the SSJ International before fire tenders reached the spot. “It was later found that the three blasts were actually the hotel’s fire extinguishers exploding due to too much heat and pressure…There is a possibility that these blasts made the situation worse,” he added.
Shantanu Jain, who lives near the SSJ International, said he called the fire department the moment he noticed the flames. Speaking to The Indian Express, he said the fire was so intense that at least two cars parked outside the hotel were destroyed and the flames were spreading towards his house.
“My uncle first saw smoke coming out of the SSJ hotel and informed me. Strong winds made the situation worse. People inside the hotel were shouting and trying to find a way to get out. There was no source of ventilation,” he added. Jain also claimed that the first two fire tenders reached the spot at 6.20 am, adding that there was a lot of traffic on the roads at the time.
The deceased have been identified as Mehar (1) from Kanpur, Aligarh resident Priyansh (40), Santosh Kumar (30) from Pune and Ganesh Kumar (48) from Patna. One body is yet to be identified. Eleven people are undergoing treatment at the SIPS Super Speciality Hospital and the civil hospital in the district. Five are in critically condition, of which two have sustained 90 per cent burns.
The government announced an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh for family members of each of the deceased and Rs 50,000 for each of the grievously injured has been announced. “The chief minister has directed officials to ensure proper medical care for the injured,” an official spokesperson said. CFO Pandey said rigorous campaigns had been undertaken in the district before the Uttar Pradesh Investors Summit in Lucknow to make hotel owners aware of fire safety rules.
“There were meetings with members of the hotel association. We also met staff of different hotels personally. There was another meeting with around 50 hotel owners. However, the one problem we face is that we do not have any power to inspect or seize hotels that have a height of less than 15 metres. In case of hotels that are taller 15 metres, we can write to the district magistrate to seize them. But they is no such rule for smaller hotels. Both these hotels were less that 15 metres in height,” he said.