At least 14 people died, 11 of them women, and 54 others were injured as a blaze swept through a pub and the building where it was located in the early hours of Friday in Lower Parel in Mumbai. The tragedy, as the year drew to an end, prompted Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to order an inquiry into the incident. Five municipal officials were suspended as it emerged that the restaurant-pub 1Above at the Trade House Building in the tony Kamala Mills Compound had been served notices in the past by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for alleged violations and even 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 ten days ago. While the 1Above management, in a statement, claimed that the fire did not originate from its premises, police booked three directors of Sigrid Ospitalita and Entertainment LLP, which runs 1Above, and the pub manager, slapping charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder in addition to other sections of the Indian Penal Code.
Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta suspended five officials of the local BMC office, and also transferred the Assistant Municipal Commissioner of G-South Ward for lapses and negligence in allowing the eateries to operate despite multiple violations in the past. 1Above was operating in what was designated as terrace space though the BMC’s policy to permit rooftop restaurants in Mumbai is still on the anvil.
Records of the civic body show that 1Above 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. Inspections were also carried out on July 13 and August 23. It was observed that they were allowing patrons to smoke on the premises though they had no permission for that. We prosecuted them three times for these violations,” an official said.
Demolitions were carried out at both eateries 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. 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 — of the terrace being used illegally, smoking being allowed and hookahs handed out without permission. The officer’s letter, sources said, directed 1Above to discontinue these activities and warned of seizure action.
The BMC resorted to seizure action twice in October, carting away some belongings of 1Above. Action against 1Above was taken on the same days as at Mojo’s. An official said the building proposals department had first granted sanction for 1Above 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 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. After the blaze Friday, the Mumbai Police registered an FIR against four persons, including Sigrid Ospitalita and Entertainment LLP directors Kripesh Sanghvi, Jigar Sanghvi and Abhijeet Mankar. The fourth is the manager of 1Above.
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Police said they have been told that the eatery did not have fire fighting equipment and there were obstructions in the path leading to the emergency exit. Additional Commissioner of Police (central region) S Jayakumar said an FIR was filed against four persons and the police were on the lookout for them. “All four relate to the 1Above eatery. Prima facie we found that all security measures were not followed by them. However, we will be waiting for the report from the Fire department before we draw any conclusion,” Jayakumar said.
Statements of 20 people have so far been recorded. Senior police inspector Ahmed Pathan from N M Joshi Marg police station said the FIR was registered under IPC sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others), 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention).
Police have despatched teams to Pune, Goa and Delhi to locate the accused. “One dedicated team is on the lookout for the Sanghvis. A team is also stationed at the airport. Our cyber team has informed us that the Sanghvis were planning to hold a New Year bash and had sent invites on their Facebook page,” another senior officer said.
Police have carried out searches at properties owned by the Sanghvis. The company, in a statement, said 1Above had all fire safety regulations, licences, 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.
“The facts of the incident, as seen by our staff, indicate a rising fire that began to emanate from the adjoining quarters to 1Above. We presume the unmanageable nature at the preliminary source of the fire resulted in its escalation to our property where all owners, staff and restaurant management from 1Above engaged immediately in clearing the crowd from the establishment. There was no escape from Mojo’s Bistro, therefore we believe that all their guests were told go through the premises of 1Above as we have an emergency exit. Hence, patrons from Mojo’s Bistro also began to rush into our premises as we helped the Fire Brigade that had arrived at the scene to evacuate guests. All our premises are well inspected and we have the requisite permissions for the same,” the company stated.
Mojo’s Bistro, adjoining 1Above, is co-owned by Nagpur-based businessman Yug Tuli and Yug Pathak. Pathak is the son of retired IPS officer K K Pathak who served as police commissioner in Pune and Nagpur. In a text message to The Indian Express, Tuli said, “We believe we should not play the blame game at this time, and give the authorities some time to investigate and come out with the facts.” K K Pathak declined comment.