A day after the Mundka fire tragedy that began unfolding on Friday afternoon only to claim 27 lives after a blaze engulfed a three-storey building near the Mundka metro station, rescue operations continued with the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Delhi Fire Services (DFS) and Delhi Police teams being deployed in the area.
The building, according to sources in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), is understood to be “10 to 12 years old” and had been constructed “without a sanctioned building plan”; two of the four floors of the structure had multiple manufacturing units operating out of it.
This, even as the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC), which has jurisdiction over the area where the tragedy occurred, issued a series of notices directing all its zonal Deputy Commissioners to carry out detailed surveys focussed on ascertaining whether industrial and prohibited activities were taking place in non-conforming areas.
While the larger exercise, the civic body directed, must be completed within 10 days, the NDMC also directed the Additional Commissioner concerned to investigate and submit a report on the incident, along with finer details of the building, within 48 hours.
DFS Director Atul Garg said the commercial building did not have a No Objection Certificate (NOC) and necessary protocols had not been followed on any of the floors. The building, for instance, did not house any of the equipment needed to extinguish fire, he said.
The fire chief said every building should have two entry and exit points on every floor, but the said building just had one. He also added that the building defied the guidelines on ventilation under building bylaws laid by the Supreme Court.
The Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) - Outer, Sameer Sharma, said seven deceased persons had been identified — Tania Bhushan, Mohini Pal, Yashoda Devi, Ranju Devi, Vishal, Drishti, and Kailash Jyani. Fifteen injured persons had been discharged from the hospital in the morning, he said. A senior police official said the number of female victims was higher than the number of male victims.
According to the DCP, company owners Harish and Varun Goel were arrested, the building’s owner Manish Lakra is absconding, and search operations are on to nab him. A fire official and employees working at the building claimed the fire emerged due to a short circuit.
“The fire started around 3.30 p.m. and by 4.40 p.m., it became uncontrollable,” Raj, 22, a cab driver travelling on the same route said. According to him, more than 100-150 people were present on each floor, and first floor had more. ”I saw many women and young girls jump from the building only to save themselves,” he said.
As the devastation unfolded, the fire brigade took some time to reach the spot. The locals, however, stood up and tried to rescue people, he added. Mr. Raj explained how there was only one staircase and it was difficult to escape.
The NDMC, meanwhile, issued a series of notices which direct all of its zonal Deputy Commissioners to carry out detailed surveys; in order to find out on whether industrial and prohibited activities are taking place in non-conforming areas – adding that the exercise must be completed in 10 days.
One of the notices also directed an Additional Commissioner of the Narela zone to submit a detailed report on the fire incident, and finer details of the building, at Mundka, within 48 hours.
Speaking to The Hindu, a senior NDMC official, who was familiar with the structure that caught fire, said that the building was slightly over a decade old, while it was built without a “sanctioned building plan”.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in a press conference claimed that two firemen had lost their lives while setting the fire out, and raised questions on the DFS’ inefficiency and lack of an action plan.
Responding to claims made by the BJP, Mr. Garg said that since the area is congested, traffic was a major reason of delay. “No firemen were injured during the operation,” he added. Regarding the action plan, he said the team had been informed about the fire after it worsened. “With 30 fire tenders and around 125 fire personnel, the team was able to douse the fire by 9.30-10 p.m.,” he added.
However, the senior NDMC official asserted that building was “made to seem like” it was unoperational, while that was not the case, and the civic body had previously sealed a liquor vend in the building, close to two years ago.
While explaining the challenges, NDRF Commandant Praveen Kumar Tiwary said due to extreme heat it was difficult to enter the premises, however, their search operation for victims is underway.
The team recovered a few body parts in charred conditions, while the forensics department will identify further, “many have been charred to an extent that it difficult to identify,” he added. He further said a manual search with traditional equipments is being done, while the rescue operation with a team of 35 members each were deployed by NDRF on Friday night and Saturday, however, they are prepared with more staff.
“The building is located in an extended Lal Dora area, which is meant for residential purposes. The whole area has this problem, but we did notice any activity which would show that the building was operational. In the case of old buildings, we seal them, while new constructions are demolished. Even in the past, when we have attempted to take action on buildings in the area, locals have come out to resist our move,” the senior NDMC official said.
However, when asked on how the building was constructed without a building plan, and whether necessary permissions were given for its construction, the senior official was unable to provide details. “We need to check this since the building is very old,” he added.
The official agreed that the civic body had not inspected the building in the recent past as it was “under the impression” that the building was “not operational”.
Former NDMC Mayor Jai Prakash of the BJP, however, asserted that the ward’s councillor belonged to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and that the latter does not allow the civic body to take action. He added, “The civic body cannot do everything. The Delhi Government also has to play its role. There is a fault in the system. Why would such incidents occur otherwise?”
The Leader of the Opposition at the NDMC, the AAP’s Vikas Goel, emphasised that the building had been created through “corrupt practices” of the BJP-led civic body, which has been in power at the civic-level since 2007.