In a grisly end to the year, at least 14 people died, 11 of them women, and 54 others were injured as fire swept through a pub and the rest of the building where it was located in the early hours of Friday in Lower Parel in Mumbai.
As Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis ordered an inquiry into the incident and five municipal officials were suspended, it emerged that that the restaurant-pub 1Above at the Trade House Building in the Kamala Mills Compound had been served notices in the past by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for alleged violations and had even been prosecuted for unauthorised construction and alterations.
Despite this track record of a series of violations recorded by the BMC during inspections of 1Above and the adjoining Mojo’s Bistro, officials permitted 1Above to renew its licence barely 10 days ago.
In a statement Friday, the owners of 1Above, however, denied that the fire broke out in their establishment. Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta suspended five officials of the local office of the BMC, and also transferred the assistant municipal commissioner of the G-South Ward, the top civic official of the area, for lapses and negligence in allowing the eateries to operate despite multiple previous violations.
The restaurant was operating in what was designated as a terrace space though the BMC’s policy to permit rooftop restaurants in Mumbai is still on the anvil. According to the civic body’s records, 1Above, which is run by M/s Sigrid Hospitality and Entertainment LLP, was issued a licence on December 19, 2016 in the name of licencee Kripesh Sanghavi. The licence was to expire on December 17.But it was renewed by the civic body and is now valid up to December 18, 2018.
Both eateries were located on the second floor of the Trade House Building. “Almost a month after the Mojo’s Bistro started operations in April civic officials carried out an inspection on May 17. They found that the terrace was being used for trade activity, illegally. Then, inspections were carried out on July 13 and August 23. It was observed that they were allowing patrons to smoke in the premises — they had no permission for this. We prosecuted them three times for these violations,” an official said.
The BMC also carried out “seizure action” twice in October, carting away some belongings of 1Above. Action against 1Above was taken on the same days as at Mojo’s. “In this case also, smoking was being allowed without permission. We also prosecuted 1Above three times,” the official said, adding that demolitions were carried out at both eating houses in the first week of August.
At 1Above, the BMC’s inspection team found an unauthorised construction of a partition wall with a tin sheet. Two rooms had also been constructed with asbestos sheets and a GI sheet roof. All of these were demolished in August. At Mojo’s, an unauthorised construction shed with fiber sheet roof was demolished.
In September, the assistant municipal commissioner of G-South Ward wrote to the management of 1Above regarding the violations — the terrace continued to be used illegally, cigarette smoking was being permitted and hookahs were being served without permission. The letter, sources said, asked the restaurant to discontinue these activities and warned of seizure action.
An official said that the building proposals department had first granted sanctions for the restaurant in the Trade House Building in November 2014. “The fire department issued an NOC in November 2016, following which the licence was issued,” the official said.
In the case of the Mojo’s Bistro, which is run by Tirupati Restaurants and Cafe Pvt Ltd, a licence was issued to Yug K Pathak on April 12, 2017. “The building proposals department gave its approval on February 16, 2017 and the Fire NOC was issued on April 8, 2017,” the official said.
In May, the civic body issued notice under Section 351 of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act, asking both eating houses to remove unauthorised additions. In case of 1 Above, it said the partition wall with tin sheet, construction of two rooms with asbestos sheet would have to go, while in Mojo’s, it said an unauthorised shed and fibre sheet roof would have to be removed.
In the first week of July, the civic body again issued notices under section 55 of the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning asking the outlets to remove unauthorized construction of shed with tarpaulin sheet and bamboo. After the blaze Friday, the Mumbai Police registered an FIR against three owners of the restaurant and a manager of 1Above on charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder in addition to other sections of the Indian Penal Code.
The company, in a statement, said 1Above has all its fire safety regulations, licenses, procedures and norms in place. “We have been able to help save many lives thanks to our fire safety protocols and are grateful to our staff for their presence of mind and help in this time of crisis. To preempt any emergency, 1Above conducts a quarterly fire safety and crisis management training. This was also conducted recently for this quarter as per our vigilant practice for all our staff and managers. There are over 10 fire extinguishers and adequate fire safety signatures in the premises as is required by the authorities. As part of the same fire safety protocol, the fire exit dedicated to 1Above was maintained well as per rules and regulations — a reason why we were able to evacuate persons speedily,” the statement said, adding that their staff saw the fire emanate from “adjoining quarters”.