Nearly three years after 14 people died in a fire that spread through the coal embers of a hookah at a restaurant in Mumbai’s Kamala Mills compound, a sessions court on Tuesday said that 13 accused, including two fire brigade and one civic official, will face trial in the case.
The court discharged two accused — Ravi Bhandari and Ramesh Gowani, the directors of Kamala Mills Limited — of all charges stating that there is no evidence to charge them.
On December 29, 2017, a fire had broken out at Mojo’s Bistro restaurant allegedly after an ember from coal ignited for a hookah flew on a curtain and spread rapidly to the adjacent restaurant, 1Above. Among the 14 who died, 13 people were patrons at 1Above. The 14th person who died was a staffer of 1Above. Most of the deaths occurred due to suffocation after those at the restaurant took shelter in a toilet of 1Above but could not escape.
The NM Joshi Marg police had booked 15 people in the case. In court, the prosecution had opposed the discharge applications of Bhandari and Gowani alleging that as owners, they were aware of the safety violations but overlooked them.
Bhandari and Gowani, meanwhile, had said that the properties where the two restaurants were located, were given on a lease and licence agreement for five years and before handing them over, all safety measures were followed. They had maintained that the evidence in the chargesheet was not sufficient to prove that they had the knowledge that such an incident was likely to occur.
The most number of charges will be faced by the owners of 1Above – Kripesh Sanghavi, Jigar Sanghavi and Abhijit Mankar. They face 12 charges, including forgery and cheating under IPC and the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act.
The prosecution had claimed that those stuck at the restaurant were not able to escape due to obstructions on the escape routes – flammable material was kept at the restaurant and an unauthorised shed was erected.
Rajendra Patil, who was the station fire officer at the time of the incident; Sandeep Shinde, the assistant divisional fire officer; and BMC ward sub-engineer Dinesh Mahale will face similar charges as public servants. The police had claimed that they were responsible for not flagging violations at the restaurants.
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