The roof-top terrace had been covered with tarpaulin sheets held up by bamboo poles, food was cooked on the terrace and the fire exit narrow and unusable – each one of these, a blatant violation of fire safety rules, according to preliminary investigations carried out by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), a day after a massive fire swept through resto-pub 1 Above and the adjoining Mojo’s Bistro at the Kamala Mills Compound in Mumbai’s Lower Parel, killing 14 people. A senior BMC official said norms disallowed use of open-flame cooking on the terrace. “Norms permit only heating of pre-cooked food using a microwave oven or an induction stove in an open-to-sky environment. But we found that the food was being cooked in a portion of the terrace,” he said, adding that the tarpaulin sheets and bamboo rods helped fan the fire.
While investigators are still probing allegations of whether pyrotechnics were performed at Mojo’s Bistro and if 1Above served hookah, a senior civic official said, “Our investigation so far shows that the facility was a tinderbox waiting to explode.” Civic officials also said they had come across several illegal modifications and alterations at both the watering holes located on the second floor of the Trade House Building.
The Indian Express reported on Saturday that licenses of both the facilities were renewed earlier this month despite a series of violations at the site, raising serious questions over the role of BMC’s fire safety regulators, public health inspectors, and officials from the buildings and factories department. While police have now booked owners of both the facilities, civic officials confirmed that the role of ward officials and even local elected representatives were being probed. Owners of the facilities will also be probed for the construction of illegal built-up areas, said BMC sources.
On Friday, the Mumbai civic commissioner suspended five officials while transferring Assistant Commissioner Prashant Sapkale from the ward. The officials who have been put under suspension include Building and Factories department’s designated officer Madhukar Shelar, sub-engineer Dinesh Mahale, junior engineer Dharmaraj Shinde, medical officer (health) Dr Satish Badgire, and assistant divisional fire officer SS Shinde.
Sources said the role of three serving elected representatives has also come under the scanner. There are allegations that they would liaison with the suspended officials to obtain licenses for eateries even if they lacked basic fire safety norms.
A senior BMC source said an that six months ago, two of the suspended officials had been transferred to other wards following allegations of graft against them. While these officials would now face administrative inquiry, sources did not rule out the possibility of making them a co-accused in the criminal case. Following allegations raised by Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar, the BMC has said it would also inquire into floor space index violation by the mill’s owners. Mehta has already sought a fire audit of the mill compound. The Congress, meanwhile, has raised a demand for a judicial inquiry into the episode.