Four more scrap dealers were arrested on Saturday for allegedly inciting ragpickers to light fires in the Deonar dumping ground.
Nine scrap dealers from Govandi had been arrested on Friday on the same charge. The nine were produced in a court on Saturday.
The scrap dealers have been caught in connection with the fire that erupted in the Deonar dumpyard on March 20. Eleven fire engines had to be deployed to extinguish the fire.
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A probe into the cause of the three fires at the dumping ground is being carried out by Additional Commissioner of Police, East region, Manoj Lohiya. The last fire was deliberately set, the police has claimed.
The police has identified the nine men arrested on Friday as Shamim Khan, Hussain Shaikh, Jay Prakash Yadav, Alibaba Shaikh, Sohail Shaikh, Shoaib Shaikh, Umar Ghani Khan, Rajesh Mahadik and Mohammad Shaikh. All of them were running unauthorised shops, selling scrap, close to the dumping ground.
In the case of the March 20 fire, the police has relied on witness accounts of 25 ragpickers who frequented the dumpyard. “They told us that the scrap dealers wanted to buy only metal and asked them to start small fires so that other materials would burn away and only metal parts would remain,” said Sangramsing Nishandar, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Zone VI.
“The ragpickers would light fires and wait nearby for hours. After the fires, picking metal would become easy,” he added.
The police has so far not been able to trace any of the ragpickers who set the fires. “We are trying to trace them. Many people are involved in this,” Nishandar said.
The suspicion of arson first arose when three children were seen fleeing the scene by fire brigade personnel after a fire broke out on January 29. “These were boys wearing vests and underwear. They have not been identified yet,” he added.
The arrested scrap dealers have been booked for using fire and endangering life, spreading infection and dangerous diseases as well as causing damage. Multiple fires at the dumping ground had posed a grave health risk for the city’s eastern suburbs where schools and college had been shut down. The smoke from the fires had also spread to Navi Mumbai.