The fire in Carlton Towers that claimed nine lives and injured scores of people was the result of wanton disregard of building regulations and safety norms by at least two of the several owners of space in the seven-storey H-shaped building that was constructed originally by SI properties and opened in 1999.
Two individuals, one a co-developer of the property, own roughly 60 per cent of the commercial complex that is sublet to several establishments. Because the remaining ownership is fragmented among a number of smaller owners, many of whom are not in Bangalore, these two majority stakeholders call the shots in the building association responsible for enforcing safety norms and procedures.
There were at least three major and glaring violations of safety regulations by these two “unscrupulous” owners, an informed source with access to building plans and layout told The Hindu on condition of anonymity. “Carlton Towers was a very well designed building. However, on most floors, the wide corridor separating office units on either side was encroached upon to form one large office space that obviously commanded much higher rents. The exit routes located at the end of each corridor were locked. This made it impossible for people to escape”.
The second violation, is the installation of 10 to 15 diesel generators on the terrace to power the telecom towers there. These towers rake in huge rentals for the owner of the terrace. “Had the terrace not been locked, people could have gone there to escape the smoke,” the source explained. The heavy generators threatened to compromise the building structurally; but worse still, several barrels of diesel stored on the terrace could have gone up in flames had the fire spread.
The third set of violations is on the ground floor where one owner has occupied common area illegally, and has built walls in areas designated as open space in the original plan and sale deed.
A warren of illegal shops and structures has come up on the ground floor, and the emergency staircase between the TGIF and the Reliance outlet is locked most of the time. “There is even a grill built across the stairwell, establishing illegal possession,” said the source. Fire personnel lost a precious half an hour because one of several illegal hoardings in front of the building blocked access for the fire engines. “I’m not surprised at all that this happened. The police have arrested three minor functionaries, whereas it is the result of simple and plain greed on the part of the two majority owners,” the source said. “If the fire exits were open, everyone could have just walked out.”
“The original building had ample ventilation and a situation where people had to jump out could never have arisen,” said Kamal Gupta, original builder.