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14 killed in roof-top pub fire in Mumbai

Source: PTI
Last updated on: December 30, 2017 00:13 IST
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Police have booked the owners of the restaurant for culpable homicide. 

IMAGE: A team of police inspect the debris after a fire broke out in Mumbai. Photograph: PTI Photo

A fire that started at a rooftop pub during a party spread rapidly through the building, killing 14 people, including a woman celebrating her 29th birthday and many of her friends, officials said on Friday.

The fire, which also injured 21 people, started after 12.30 am in the 1 Above pub on the terrace, and spread to Mojo pub on the third floor one level below, said an official of the Mumbai civic body, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.

Most of the victims died of asphyxiation, said Avinash Supe, dean of the KEM hospital where the injured and dead were brought.

IMAGE: Firefighters carry a victim on a stretcher after a fire broke out at Mumbai's Kamala Mills. Photograph: Stringer/Reuters

"Almost all died due to asphyxiation. None of them died due to flames," Dr. Harish Pathak, KEM Hospital's Forensic Department head told ANI.

A proper evacuation plan could have avoided this incident, he added.

"All the bodies have been identified, out of which eleven were of women and three are men. All the bodies were found inside the women's washroom," said Dr. Pathak.

He added that all these people were sent to the washroom to save them from flames, but the toxic fumes took away their lives.

Among the dead was Khushbu Bansali who was celebrating her 29th birthday, and 10 other women, according to an official list of the victims.

IMAGE: Firemen inspect the debris after a fire at a restaurant in Mumbai. Photograph: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

Bansali's grandfather, Babulal Mehta, blamed the "irresponsible" hotel management and the civic authorities.

"The hotel had put up a temporary structure supported by bamboo, with the possibility of catching fire. There was no fire extingushing facility either. It is the responsibility of the police and civic authorities act against any violations," he said.

1 Above and Mojo are located in the Trade House Building in Kamala Mills compound in Lower Parel area, a popular night spot as well as commercial hub housing several offices including national television channels.

"I was in the night shift. We heard people screaming at the pub. Initially, we thought it is due to the party which was underway there," said Sanjay Jadhav, a programme producer of a news channel.

"When I came out of my office, I saw that a fire has broken out at the roof top pub. The main entrance of our office was blocked due to the flames," he said.

IMAGE: Friends of a victim killed in a fire at a restaurant wait at a hospital in Mumbai.
Photograph: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

The massive blaze engulfed the entire building in about 30 minutes and took several hours to be put out. The cause of the fire is not known.

Dr Sulbha KG Arora, a Mumbai doctor, told NDTV news channel, she was at the 1 Above restaurant.

"There was no time for anyone to reach out because the fire spread so rapidly. The staff members of the restaurant were trying to help the customers as much as possible," she told NDTV on the phone.

"There was a stampede and someone pushed me. People were running over me even as the ceiling above me was collapsing in flames," she said separately in a tweet. "Still don't know how I got out alive."

Teams of fire brigade and police rushed to the spot and 35 injured people were pulled out from inside the pub and taken to hospital, a police official said.

IMAGE: Several fire tenders, water tankers, emergency ambulance and police personnel rushed to the spot for rescue operation. Photograph: ANI/Twitter


Police have booked Hratesh Sanghvi, Jigar Sanghvi and Abhijeet Manka of C Grade Hospitality, which manages the pub, along with others, under various charges including cuplable homicide not amounting to murder.

They are also charged IPC sections 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).

Two of those booked have been detained.

Several media outlets, including TV news channels Times Now, ET Now and TV9 Marathi, have offices in the complex.

There have been allegations that civic authorities have turned a blind eye to construction irregularities and violation of fire safety norms in the compound.

IMAGE: Family members carry the body of a victim killed in a fire at a restaurant from a hospital. Photograph: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind expressed anguish over thetragedy.

"Anguished by the fire in Mumbai. My thoughts are with the bereaved families in this hour of grief. I pray that those injured recover quickly," the Prime Minister's Office tweeted.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis also expressed grief, and said he has directed the BMC commissioner to conduct an inquiry.

"Five (civic) officials have already been suspended and appropriate sections of the Indian Penal Code will be invoked against the owners of the pub, making them responsible for the loss of lives. The guilty won't be spared," Fadnavis said.

Bharatiya Janata Party MP Kirit Somaiya said he had asked Fadnavis and the BMC commissioner to order a special fire audit of all such pubs and hooka parlours in Mumbai.

"Several such establishments at the Mills compound are illegal, part of which was regularised lately. The place where the blaze took place was illegal," he claimed.

The same central Mumbai area -- a former textile mill district now dotted by swanky glass-and-concrete towers -- had witnessed death of over 20 people in a stampede at a railway bridge on September 29 this year.

Pub owners see no faults; 1Above blames Mojo's

After 14 patrons perished in a massive fire, a blame game began between the two Kamala Mills pubs -- 1Above and Mojo's Bistro -- which have been reduced to a heap of ashes.

Even as authorities claimed that the blaze started in 1Above, where all the casualties were reported, the pub sought to push the blame on an unnamed adjoining premises and Mojo's Bistro, located a floor below, all of whose patrons escaped safely.

1Above blamed Mojo's Bistro for not having an emergency exit, leading to overcrowding of 1Above's escape avenues.

"We believe that all their guests were told to go through our premises as we have an emergency exit," according to a statement from 1Above.

"We've all fire safety regulations, licences, procedures and norms in place. We've been able to help save many lives thanks to our fire safety protocols," the 1Above statement added.

The pub claimed that that it conducts quarterly fire safety and crisis management training and it has over 10 fire extinguishers and adequate fire safety signatures at its premises as is required under rules.

The 1Above management also said their property did not keep any gas cylinders near their rooftop premises and that the gas bank was maintained on the ground floor. 

But eyewitnesses also said the cylinders were kept on the ground floor and were connected to the 1-Above kitchen on the rooftop.

However, in respective statements, both the pubs denied that they had any cylinders on its premises.

"Our staff were able to evacuate all our guests and themselves out to safety with zero injury. There were no cylinders on our premises," Mojo's said in a statement, which also claimed the facility complied with requisite fire safety norms, certificates and procedures.

The staff, it said, was "thoroughly trained" in fire drills due to which all the guests could be evacuated.

The Lower Parel in central Mumbai was a mill area in the past and was developed as commercial hub in the last 15 years. The small area is home to more than a dozen premium restaurants and pubs, apart from housing dozens of corporate offices and many media organisations.

When asked about whether these establishments have any discrepancies in licences, Hotel and Restaurant Association of Western India president Dilip Datwani said it was not possible for them not to have the licences since this was an upscale market.

"However, the problem is usually with extensions and tinkering being done after procuring the licences, which results in such tragedies," he added.

Being a new CBD (central business district), the Lower Parel and the other mill lands across central Mumbai attract high-spenders who work and socialise there.

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