Two days after a massive fire at Kalbadevi claimed the lives of two senior fire officials, senior officers in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) have raised suspicions that the garment shops located on the first two floors of the four-storey structure were illegal.
Sarees, batteries, chemicals and combustible material stored in the shops had made the fire spread faster and aggravated the situation.
The BMC has now asked the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) to furnish a report by Tuesday. The housing authority is in charge of the maintenance of these cessed structures. “It is highly unlikely that the shops had a licence to operate.
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There are several such unauthorised businesses operating out of the Kalbadevi and Bhuleshwar markets. If caught, the owners can be prosecuted for negligence,” said a senior civic official.
According to fire officials, the fire was aggravated by the combustible material inside the building. Though it started from a spark in the meter box on the ground floor, the fire spread through the wooden staircase till the fourth floor of the old building. Another civic official said, “We could not even locate the shop owners. There was no headcount of the people inside the structure, which made it more difficult to assess the situation. Even after rescuing five residents, we did not know if there were others stuck inside.”
R A Survade, Joint Chief Officer of the Mumbai Repair Board, MHADA, said, “Our first priority is the safety of these residents. We cannot assert illegality until we undertake a detailed investigation. It is also possible that the residents in the building had rented out the rooms to these shopkeepers.”
Sangeeta Hasnale, Assistant Commissioner of the C-Ward that includes Kalbadevi, said, “It is difficult to determine owners in these cases as the shops keep shifting…” Mahesh Narvekar, head of the disaster management department and member of the seven-member probe panel, said, “This will be one of the major points of our probe.”