Three days after a massive fire broke out and gutted over 900 shanties in the Ambedkar Nagar slum at Cuffe Parade,residents claimed that at least six children died in the fire. However,no missing persons report has been filed yet.
The fire took place in the heart of the dense slum network at Backbay around 10.30 am after a gas cylinder blast,following which 25 more cylinders exploded. The fire spread to an area of 60,000-70,000 sq ft,rendering about 3,000 slum dwellers homeless.
A resident,Ranjit Singh (22),succumbed to burns and three others were injured.
Vijay Salve,a resident,said: Three children were locked up in a room because their parents had gone to work. Those children died in the fire and their dead bodies could not be recovered.
A large part of the slum is mostly on marshy land and many people could have been buried there, said Adil Mohhamad,volunteer with a local mosque.
The are many homes where children are locked inside while their parents go for work. Many such children seem to be missing. However,these have not been reported as the bodies were not found, said Humina Bi,a resident,claiming that at least 15 such deaths have occurred.
The local police officials,however,denied the claims. There are no other casualties reported from Ambedkar Nagar. We have received no missing complaints after the fire was put out. All residents have been accounted for, said Padmakar Juikar,assistant commissioner of police,Colaba division.
The congested slum houses a mix of migrants. The slums came up after 1995 on the mangrove land facing the Arabian Sea. The slums were built after dumping debris on the land up to at least 14 ft,and stabilising it with wooden poles. After the fire,the large expanse of land is now coal black,with puddles and wooden poles that indicate the slums that existed before.
Priya Decruz,a resident who works as a domestic help,has not gone to work since the fire. Her 125-sq ft plot is a black mass of land and water,bereft of any belonging except a bag of clothes. I wont move from here till I am sure of getting an alternative accommodation. Once we leave this place,someone else might claim ownership of our house, she said.
While most residents have dug poles to mark their huts to be rebuilt,blame game over manning the encroached land continues between government agencies.
As it is encroached land,there is no question of rebuilding the burnt shanties. But a larger policy decision needs to be made by the forest department, said C V Oak,collector (island city).