Toll may go beyond 27 as 19 people are still missing and remains are being found
NEW DELHI: A day after a massive blaze snuffed out 27 lives at a commercial building in west Delhi's Mundka area, 19 people are still missing. A top fire official said that the death toll may rise as charred remains were recovered from the second floor of the building on Saturday morning. Officials apprehend that the death toll may climb beyond 27. Meanwhile, out of the 27 bodies, the authorities have managed to identify only eight people.
Despite their efforts, the administration is clueless about the whereabouts of those missing since the incident. According to police, 21 women and six men are missing; eight of them have been identified.
During the search operations by the fire department on Saturday morning, some charred bodies were recovered. “We have found charred remains and it is difficult to ascertain whether they are of one person or more. Initial investigation suggests an explosion in an air-conditioner may have triggered the fire,” said Atul Garg, the chief fire officer, Delhi Fire Service (DFS).
The fire was so intense that, out of 27 people killed in inferno, only eight have been identified by police. The deceased have been identified as Tania Bhushan, Mohini Pal, Yashoda Devi, Ranju Devi, Vishal, Drishti, Kailash Jyani and Amit Jyani. The father and son duo, Kailash Jyani and Amit Jyani, had visited the ill-fated building for a motivational lecture on the second floor.
The identities of the remaining 19 bodies are yet to be ascertained. Police said that they have initiated the DNA-based identification process for those dead bodies that are yet to be identified.
According to a list released by West Delhi district magistrate, the injured have been identified as Satish (38), Pradeep (36), Ashu (22), Harjeet (23), Nitin (24), Avinash (29), Sandhya (22), Dhanvanti (21), Bimla (43), Ayesha (24) and Mamta (52).
Following the incident, the Delhi chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, ordered a magisterial enquiry into the matter. “It is a very unfortunate incident and a magisterial enquiry has been ordered. We will not spare anyone, whoever is responsible for the incident. Two brothers have been arrested so far,” said Mr Kejriwal.
The chief minister, along with his deputy Manish Sisodia, visited the blaze site to take stock of the situation. He announced an ex-gratia relief of Rs 10 lakh each to the kin of the deceased. The injured will be given Rs 50,000 per person by the Delhi government.
According to the fire department officials, the building did not have a fire safety certificate or fire-fighting equipment. There was only a single entry and exit point, which is the reason behind so many casualties. “The building also did not have a proper blueprint. Most of the bodies were found on the second floor,” said Mr Garg.
Since Saturday morning, there was an atmosphere of grief at the Sanjay Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Mangolpuri as hundreds of relatives waited outside the hospital to get any information about their kin. The injured and dead bodies were taken to the Sanjay Gandhi Memorial hospital after the incident on Friday evening.
Meanwhile, the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) and other agency’s officials were quick to put the onus on the owners of the building and claimed that commercial activity was going on “illegally” in the building. The NDMC commissioner on Saturday wrote a letter to the additional commissioner of Narela Zone, asking him to file a detailed report on the following incident in the next 48 hours.
“The additional commissioner, Narela Zone, is hereby directed to submit a detailed report of the above incident within 48 hours indicating on the following aspects, type of the area-- either residential, lal dora, agriculture; where the said building is located, tentative year of the construction of the building, tentative height of the building and whether building plan sanctioned or not,” the letter stated.
On their part, the Delhi police have arrested Harish and Varun Goel, both brothers owned the CCTV camera and router manufacturing and assembling company, while a manhunt is initiated to nab Manish Lakra, the owner of the building who is still at large.
All the floors of the building were being used by the same company, said Sameer Sharma, the deputy commissioner of police Outer district. He said an FIR has been registered against the owners of the CCTV camera manufacturing company under sections 304 (punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide), 120 (concealing design to commit offence punishable with imprisonment) and 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code.
Several videos showing thick plumes of smoke billowing from the top of the building were doing the rounds on social media. People trapped inside could be heard crying for help while some jumped down in a desperate attempt to escape the flames. Some could be seen using ropes to escape.
The illegal commercial building, around 10 to 12 years old, flouted safety and fire norms. It did not have emergency exits. And the fact that it continued to operate has once again raised the question about such manufacturing units that are operating without approval from the concerned authorities.
Under the Industrial Employment Act 1946, the Labour Department is required to take suo moto cognizance when there are more than 50 workers. In this case, there is no record of any such inspection by the authorities. Precious lives could have been saved if these departments had acted diligently.