The Delhi police have arrested the owner of the four-storey building in Outer Delhi’s Mundka which caught fire two days ago, killing at least 27 persons and injuring several others.
The accused, identified as Manish Lakra, was handed over the property after the death of his father Baljeet Lakra in 2015, officials said. The arrest led to a political slugfest with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) claiming that Mr. Lakra had connections with the BJP while the latter denied the allegation.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (Outer) Sameer Sharma said Mr. Lakra was arrested after multiple raids were carried out across Delhi and Haryana. “We had received information that he had planned to go to Haridwar,” the DCP said.
Mr. Sharma said Mr. Lakra called his relatives to escape after realising that a fire had broken out. “Manish and his family escaped by climbing down from the next building,” police said. The DCP added that the police were trying to trace Mr. Lakra’s family.
Mr. Lakra allegedly told the police that he had escaped to a place in Haryana, where he borrowed money from one of his friends and got rid of his mobile phone before the arrest.
DCP Sharma said DVRs of CCTV cameras had been sent to the Forensic Sciences Lab. “After the forensic report arrives, it will be clear if the door leading to the terrace was accessible or not. If someone wanted to reach his [Mr. Lakra’s] house or the roof, they had to cross this door as it was like a personal door ,” the DCP said.
Earlier, the police had arrested co-accused Harish and Varun Goel, who were owners of the CCTV company which was being run on three floors.
Police said the four-storey building was constructed by Mr. Lakra’s father, Baljeet Lakra, in 2011-12 and was later transferred to Manish after his father’s death in 2015.
A case has been lodged at the Mundka police station under IPC Sections pertaining to causing death by negligence, attempt to commit culpable homicide, party to criminal conspiracy, among others.
Delhi Fire Service officers had said that no NOC (no-objection certificate) was issued for the property while tenant verification and police clearance certificates were not issued as well.
On Sunday, the DCP said that only eight bodies out of the 27 persons killed so far had been identified and the rest were awaiting forensic reports of DNA samples.
Meanwhile, the AAP, presenting photographs at a press conference, attempted to connect Mr. Lakra to the BJP and blame the BJP for the fire. Senior AAP leader Durgesh Pathak said Mr. Lakra could be seen wearing the BJP’s patka on many occasions and had been photographed with several BJP leaders. He displayed a photo in which Mr. Lakra can be seen in a car sitting with Master Azad Singh, who had been a councilor and mayor from the BJP several times. “For the last three times, Mr. Singh has been fighting the Mundka Assembly elections on a BJP ticket and also happens to be the uncle of BJP MP Pravesh Sahib Singh Verma,” Mr. Pathak said.
Delhi BJP spokesperson Praveen Shankar Kapoor said Mr. Lakra was not a BJP member nor had ever held any party position and hit out at the AAP for spreading lies. “During election time many people support a political party and that doesn’t mean they are party members or office-bearers,” Mr. Kapoor said.
The AAP also put the blame on the BJP-run North Delhi Municipal Corporation for permitting a factory to run in the building despite its licence being cancelled in 2017 after complaints from locals. The party added that industrial activities were going on in the complex located on land where industrial activity was not permitted despite the Supreme Court’s monitoring committee sealing the building in 2018. “The BJP-ruled civic body knew what Mr. Lakra was up to in the building because of his ties with the BJP. The AAP demands a thorough enquiry into the matter and strictest possible action against the building owner and BJP leaders involved in the conspiracy,” Mr. Pathak said. He added that the BJP even ran its Mundka Vidhan Sabha campaign office from the building in 2015.
Mr. Kapoor called Mr. Pathak’s statement a blatant lie and said the North DMC had never issued any factory or storage licence to the concerned building. “In 2016 under ‘self scheme’ the building owner took out a factory licence which was soon cancelled by North DMC authorities,” he said.
“Truth is that in 2019 a Delhi government liquor shop was opened in this building after whose complaint the Supreme Court constituted Monitoring Committee sealed the building. The owner of the building later approached the Monitoring Committee and removed the irregular shop, paid the penalty etc. and got the building de-sealed in 2020,” Mr. Kapoor said. He added that it was very clear that this building had no licence or permit from the North DMC. “It is the Delhi government which owes a reply how this building got so many heavy electricity connections, fire NOC and how a Delhi government liquor shop was opened in the Laldora area,” Mr. Kapoor said.
Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal had ordered a magisterial inquiry into the Mundka building fire that would be completed within six weeks, officials said. The district magistrate (west) would probe lapses on the part of the departments and agencies concerned, recommend action against the erring officials and fix responsibility, the official added.