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Reverberations of the tragedy heard in Parliament as BJP MP Kirit Somaiya blames Shiv Sena-led Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, enquiry ordered

midnight blaze that broke out in an upmarket restaurant situated in South Mumbai’s Kamala Mills compound and quickly spread to neighbouring eateries claimed 14 lives, including those of 11 women, on the intervening night of Thursday and Friday.

Doctors from Mumbai’s KEM Hospital, who examined the bodies of the deceased have told the media that prima facie the cause of death appeared to be asphyxiation and not burn injuries for most of those who died in the tragedy, suggesting that the death toll could have been contained – or prevented altogether – had fire safety and emergency evacuation norms been followed by the eateries that were gutted in the fire.

The inferno that consumed and then completely annihilated the 1 Above restaurant – where the fire first broke out at – and its surrounding eateries like Mojo’s Bistro, has once again brought to the fore the lackadaisical and negligent attitude of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation towards ensuring that commercial establishments in the Maximum City adhere to fire safety regulations.

The fire, media reports suggest, broke out shortly past midnight. Fire officials said they received the first call at 12.27 a.m (on Thursday night) and rushed eight fire engines and fire tankers to the spot. The blaze was initially declared as a Level II fire but was upgraded to Level III at 12.42 p.m. as the firemen failed to control the raging inferno.

It is learnt that around 20 people have sustained injuries in the blaze, with two of them reported to be in a critical condition. The injured are undergoing treatment at the KEM Hospital, Sion Hospital, Airoli Hospital and Bhatiya Hospital.

 Sources said that the fire broke out from the false roof of 1 Above restaurant where a group of friends – mostly women – were celebrating a birthday bash. The false roof was made of inflammable bamboo, a reason being cited to explain why the blaze spread so quickly.

 The flames then spread to the Mojo’s Bistro next door. The management of Mojo’s Bistro has claimed that all the safety norms were being adhered to by the establishment and that the staff was trained to deal with such situations.  “We are extremely saddened by the incident. Mojo’s has all its fire safety norms, certificates, and procedures in place. The staff are (sic) thoroughly trained in fire drills hence our staff was able to evacuate all our guests and themselves out to safety with zero injuries. There were NO cylinders on our premises. We are fully complying with the authorities to help in any way we can,” the Bistro said in a statement released to the media.

 The Mumbai police has booked 1 Above owners Hratesh Sanghvi, Jigar Sanghvi and Abhijeet Manka of C Grade Hospitality, which manages the establishment, along with others, under IPC sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) and 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others).

As President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a host of other political leaders expressed shock at the tragedy and their condolences to the victims, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation also came in for heavy flak from lawmakers for its negligence.

 In the Lok Sabha, BJP’s Kirit Somaiya – an MP from Mumbai – slammed the BMC and its “corrupt officials” for the tragedy, terming Kamala Mills compound and the neighbouring Phoenix Mills compound – both situated in South Mumbai’s Lower Parel locality – as “death traps”. Somaiya demanded a fire security audit of these former mills in Mumbai which have now turned into upmarket venues that house posh eateries, pubs and shopping arcades. Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant also demanded a judicial inquiry in the incident. Incidentally, while the Shiv Sena rules the BMC – the most cash-rich civic body in India – the BJP is the second largest party in the corporation’s council.

Since the tragedy occurred, several media organisations have highlighted how the commercial establishments in Kamala Mill Compound were blatantly violating fire safety norms and the manner in which the BMC had, despite being repeatedly warned by activists and locals about the situation, failed to crackdown against these eateries for the violations. However, what is interesting to note is the fact that the Kamala Mills Compound also houses offices and studios of some major television news channels – like Times Now – (the transmission of which was interrupted for several hours in the wake of the blaze) but journalists working for these organisations, many of whom are known to visit these eateries often, have failed to report on the violations in the past.

 Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has also ordered an inquiry in the incident and directed BMC Commissioner Ajoy Mehta to ensure that strict action is taken against any official of the civic body whose negligence is proven.

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