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Kamala Mills fire: They blew the whistle but civic body ignored them

By Prasanna D Zore
December 29, 2017 17:23 IST
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Mangesh Kasalkar, an MNS worker, and RTI activist Iyas Khan had repeatedly warned the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation about the illegal extensions and violations by 1 Above, a rooftop pub inside the labyrinthine Kamala Mills in Mumbai's Lower Parel, where 14 people where died in a fire on Thursday night, but nothing was done.

Both these activists had repeatedly brought the illegalities of several such pubs and rooftop restaurants in Kamala Mills and the neighbouring Raghuvanshi Mills to the notice of the civic authorities.

Khan, after repeatedly being ignored by G South ward authorities (the municipal ward in whose jurisdiction lies both these mills), had even sent a letter to Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Mumbai Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta, but to no avail.

Both Kasalkar and Khan contend that precious lives could have been saved had the local municipal authorities paid attention to their repeated complaints.

Ilyas Khan: "The chief ward officer of the area told me that if they began their demolition drive it would result in lot of debris and we don't have the provision to store the debris in our ward."

RTI activist Ilyas Khan

I complained online about these rooftop restaurants and pubs way back in July through the BMC's mobile app that solicits information from people about such illegal activities. Nothing much happened and the response that I got from the officials was that we have served a notice (to these joints) and action will be taken.

The officials told me that they (the G South ward officials) had served a demolition notice to several hotels about who I had complained. But that was only hot air. Despite the demolition notices served to these restaurants in August, they did not demolish any of the illegal structures or acted against the illegal activities in any of these restaurants.

RTI activist Ilyas Khan

Fifteen days after that, when no action was taken, I sent a complaint to the building and factory department of the BMC, to the municipal commissioner (Ajoy Mehta), quoted my online application number, and sent a copy of the same to Chief Minister Fadnavis.

The building and factory department only served a demolition notice to these restaurants, while it is their responsibility to demolish anything illegal at these places. In the last three months I have been visiting the officials of G South Ward every Monday and Friday -- you can check their registers for proof -- but nobody responded.

In fact, just eight days ago I had sent a reminder to G South Ward officials about my complaint and now this has happened.

RTI activist Ilyas Khan

The chief ward officer of the area told me that if they began their demolition drive it would result in a lot of debris and that we don't have the provision to store the  debris in our ward.

He later told me that the BMC had begun the e-tendering process for the same and assured me that whenever a bidder succeeds, he will demolish these illegal structures and dispose of the debris.

The chief ward officer even told me that since there was no guarantee of people like me remaining alive or dead after eight days, he could not guarantee when the demolitions would be carried out.

I just got empty assurances, no action, and now 14 people have died.

Thank god it wasn't a Friday or Saturday night, else hundreds would have died there.

***

Mangesh Kasalkar: 'The BMC administration has not done anything to save the lives of the people and it won't do much even in the next 50 years."

 

I had complained to the building and factory department of G South Ward about illegal encroachments taking place inside several restaurants in Kamala Mills compound.

First they said there was no illegality and so they had given permission to these pubs and hotels to run their businesses.

They repeatedly denied these illegalities and the officials there did not entertain my complaints.

I had sent this notice to the concerned officials in October, just two months before the fire at Kamala Mills. They replied to this complaint on December 8,  but did not say if there were any illegalities involved here.

I'd have felt good had the BMC taken my complaint seriously and acted upon it. But the BMC officials are responsible for these deaths and they should be booked for murder.

I'd request the young patrons to demand the fire safety audit certificate from the owners before entering such places. After all, the people who receive bribes and allow such illegal operations to continue, despite knowing that these could be hazardous to the lives of people who patronise them, don't die when such mishaps happen.

It is you who die.

Like the Elphinstone Road stampede, when the government blamed it on the people who created the stampede, here too the same reason might be given.

The BMC administration has not done anything to save the lives of people and it won't do much even in the next 50 years. We will have to be the saviours of our own lives.

So I request the youth to not patronise such places.

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Prasanna D Zore / Rediff.com in Mumbai
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