The Bombay High Court Tuesday said “there must be some regulation” by authorities when they grant permission to commercial establishments. The court was hearing a Public Interest Litigation seeking a fire safety audit of all restaurants and bars, which have been issued licence to serve food or alcohol by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, in light of the fire at Kamala Mills.
Blaming the fire at Kamala Mills on “wilful, negligent and neglectful attitude” by the authorities and restaurant owners, former Commissioner of Police Julio Ribeiro has, through a PIL, sought a ward-wise fire safety audit.
“When authorities permit commercial establishments, then there has to be some regulations. There has to be sufficient access to public and sufficient space for fire engines to come and go, in case of emergencies,” said Justice RM Borde.
The petition further seeks setting up a Judicial Commission for fixing accountability of public officers and private persons involved in the incident and a Special Investigation Team (SIT) comprising IPS officers not below the rank of Additional Commissioner of Police (Crime) for continuing the present investigation in all the FIRs registered by the police.
The fire at Kamala Mills took place around midnight – in the intervening night of 29 and 30 December – at two restaurants, 1Above and Mojo Bistro, causing the death of 14 people and leaving 50 people injured.
Referring to media reports, the petitioner states that, “The petitioner was shocked, anguished and surprised at the glaring negligence and deliberate omissions by the public officers to comply with fire safety norms laid down under various acts and issued by appropriate authorities, thereby causing death of 14 innocent people.”
While notices were served to the establishments, the petition said “notices were issued as an insurance and was an illusion. Hence, it is utmost necessary for this court, in public interest to take cognisance and monitor the whole process of investigation.”
Pointing to the demolition action carried out by the civic body after the incident, Ribeiro said, “It is glaringly clear after going through the reports that the BMC appears to have had prior knowledge of the illegalities and flouting of fire safety norms in these places as such a huge “crackdown” on the said illegal structures was done within a day or so of the incident.”
Moreover, the exit door of the restaurant 1Above was bolted from outside, which resulted in delay in the evacuation process. Also, the passage between the two restaurants, Mojo’s Bistro and 1Above was very narrow and Fire Brigade officials found it difficult to use it as the flames had covered the area entirely, said the petition. The matter is likely to come up for hearing next Monday.