Two managers of the pub 1Above in the Kamala Mills Compound, where 14 people died and 54 others were injured in a fire last week, were arrested by the Mumbai Police Monday. Lisbon Lopez (34) and Kevin Bawa (35) were sent to police custody till January 9 by the metropolitan magistrate in Bhoiwada. The pub owners — Kripesh Sanghvi, Jigar Sanghvi and Abhijit Sanghvi — continue to be on the run.
The prosecution, citing police investigations and statements given by other employees of the pub, alleged Lopez and Bawa knew of the violations at the resto-bar that could endanger lives if a fire broke out. The police claimed the two managers did not help the customers escape, instead they fled after the fire broke out. “There was no intention to cause death but the accused had knowledge of unauthorised constructions on the pub premises. This attracts punishment under Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the IPC. It is a serious offence and maximum police custody should be given,” said prosecutor Sanjay Wadhawane, seeking 14 days’ police custody.
The remand application submitted by the police claimed as managers, the accused were aware there was only a narrow passageway leading to the lift to exit the pub. The emergency exit door leading to a staircase was blocked, the application said.
Meanwhile, the Mumbai Police Sunday questioned Yug Pathak, co-owner of Mojo’s Bistro that has allegedly flouted norms under the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning (MRTP) Act, for over two hours. Pathak is the son of retired IPS officer K K Pathak, who served as the commissioner of Pune and Nagpur.
Pathak reportedly claimed no conditions were violated in Mojo’s Bistro, which is adjacent to 1Above. Other than Pathak, the police have also booked Ramesh Govani, the owner of Kamala Mills Compound, Mojo’s owner Yug Tuli and Shailendra Singh, owner of another eatery named P22, under sections of the MRTP Act, as well as the 1Above owners, who are also named in the first FIR. The probe under the MRTP Act will be part of the second leg of investigation. “Currently, we are focusing on arresting the absconding accused wanted in the fire case,” said an officer. Probes under the MRTP Act seldom merit arrest, with the investigation usually facilitating BMC action for violating town planning norms.
Meanwhile, no CCTV footage from the pubs will be available to investigators. Cameras and recorders of 1Above and Mojo’s Bistro were charred in the fire, according to the forensic team that helped record the panchanama. “In the absence of the same the fire brigade has to now rely on other techniques to ascertain the cause of the fire, said the official.
The Mumbai Police probe has said the fire originated in 1Above, not inside Mojo’s Bistro as claimed by the absconding accused in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding a CBI probe.
On the whereabouts of the Sanghvis, police sources said they do not suspect the trio of having fled the city. “The three have taken refuge with some common contact. They have become incommunicado and have snapped all contacts with family members. They aren’t even communicating with their family members through WhatsApp or other messenger services,” added the official.
In their remand application for the arrested managers, the police said Monday they want to interrogate them on whether they are aware of the whereabouts of the absconding accused.
Vijay Thakur, the defence advocate for the arrested managers, said the fire accident was an accident and hence Section 304(a)(causing death due to negligence) could be applied and not Section 304. He also claimed the fire had begun in Mojo’s Bistro and not 1Above. The defence claimed since there was no exit for the patrons at Mojo’s Bistro, they had rushed to 1Above.
Both the accused, who were in tears in the courtrooom, told the court they were innocent and had tried their best to save people.
Metropolitan magistrate R M Karade sent the two to custody till January 9. “Since the investigation is under process, it cannot be commented upon under which section the accused should be booked and hence considering the gravity of the incident and for further proper investigation, the accused are remanded to custody till January 9,” the magistrate said.
The accused have been booked under sections including 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others), 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) and 34 (common intention) of the IPC.