The Bombay High Court on Monday said authorities must take the Kamala Mills fire incident as an opportunity to start monitoring hotels, restaurants and other eateries at Mumbai as the safety of people was paramount. The court observed that there was rampant violation of norms, and said constant checks were required, failing which such incidents would continue to occur.
A division bench of justices R M Borde and R G Ketkar, hearing a PIL seeking a judicial inquiry into the Kamala Mills fire on December 29 last year, said the city witnessed a spate of fire incidents in 2017. “This incident (Kamala Mills) has given you (the city civic body) an opportunity to improve your system. Stakes are high as it is about citizens’ safety which is of utmost importance,” Borde said.
Fourteen people died and over 30 others were injured when a fire broke out at the ‘1 Above’ and ‘Mojo Bistro’ pubs situated in the Kamala Mills compound in Central Mumbai. The HC said that it was time authorities, including the civic body and the state government, came up with an independent mechanism to regulate and monitor such establishments.
“Prima facie, once licence is granted and there is no supervision. There needs to be a constant monitoring or else such cases of fire and negligence will continue. There are rampant violations,” the court said. The court also sought to know from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) if there was any policy which allowed them to grant licences to hotels, restaurants and pubs to operate on the roof-top or terrace of a building.
“We do not understand how a hotel or pub can be permitted to operate on the terrace of a building? A terrace is supposed to be a common open area accessible to all occupants of the building,” Borde said. The BMC’s counsel, Anil Sakhre, informed the court that there was a policy in place. The bench then directed him to submit before it the policy and also all the licences granted to the two pubs where the fire had occurred.
Sakhre also told the court that 12 officials from the civic body and the fire brigade department have been booked in the case for alleged negligence and a departmental enquiry has also been initiated against them. To this, the court said apart from holding officials accountable for this particular incident, the BMC should now start the process of carrying out inspections at all eateries in the city and see if the conditions imposed earlier and the fire safety norms are being adhered to.
The PIL, filed last month by Mumbai’s former police commissioner Julio Ribeiro, also sought a direction to the government and the civic body to carry out a fire safety audit of all eateries and restaurants. The HC posted the petition for hearing on February 14.