Sargam Society fire: builder flouted every norm

Reduced to ashes: Charred remains of the flat on the 11th floor in Sargam Society in Tilak Nagar, which caught fire on Thursday.

Reduced to ashes: Charred remains of the flat on the 11th floor in Sargam Society in Tilak Nagar, which caught fire on Thursday.  


Building had no functional firefighting equipment, no NOC from fire brigade, no OC from municipal corporation, no registered society; case registered against builder

Mumbai: Sargam Society in Tilak Nagar, which caught fire on Thursday, is another tower of irregularities similar to Crystal Tower in Parel. The building neither had functional firefighting equipment nor no-objection certificate (NOC) from the fire brigade nor an occupation certificate (OC) from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). Residents had been following up with the builder since 2014, but to no avail. The builder has allegedly defrauded other societies as well.

The 15-storey building was constructed by Reliance Realtors after redeveloping a two-storey MHADA building. Construction started in 2008 wherein the old building was demolished and residents were given rent for temporary accommodation. In 2014, original residents were given occupation in the building’s A wing while the flats in B and C wing were sold to new owners. Most people moved in 2014. The MHADA, which owns the land, said it transferred the land in the society’s name (conveyance) and gave an NOC for redevelopment. It claimed that it has nothing to do with the society after conveyance.

Around 7.50 p.m. on Thursday, a fire broke out reportedly in flat no. 1101 on the 11th floor of the building’s B wing. The Mumbai Fire Brigade received a call around 7.51 p.m. and the blaze was declared Level III (medium) at 8.42 p.m. Eight fire engines were sent to the spot. Five residents died and two, including a fireman, were injured. The deceased have been identified as Sunita Joshi (72), Bhalchandra Joshi (72), Suman Joshi (83), Tarala Gangar (52), and Laxmiben Gangar (83). Shrinivas Joshi (86), a resident of 12th floor, was admitted for asphyxiation, but his family took discharge against medical advice on Friday. Chhagan Singh (28), a fireman, was discharged on Thursday night.

Flat no. 1101 belongs to the Meghpuria family. Residents suspect that the fire started due to a short circuit in the Christmas decorative lights in the hall of the flat. “We were supposed to be at their house on Thursday night and all the relatives were supposed to leave for Nashik on Friday morning for an annual outing. We had left from my house in Thane when this happened,” Mayur Bhat, a cousin of the Meghpurias, said.

The Meghpuria family consists of three siblings and their parents. While the two daughters were not at home, the son and parents ran out of the building after the fire. “We alerted as many people as we could. We even told the Gangars but I don’t know why they didn’t come down,” another member of the family, who did not wish to be named, said.

The flames spread from flat no. 1101’s open main door to 1103 and 1104, occupied by the Gangars. Laxmiben Gangar died along with her daughter-in-law Tarala. Some residents of B wing ran to the terrace but found it locked. Ashok Kanaujia, a resident of 15th floor, broke the lock using a hammer and ran out through the other wing.

Kusum Gohel, a senior citizen living on the 9th floor, lamented the loss of her friend Suman Joshi. “Every day, we would come down for a walk and sit in the compound for fresh air. On Thursday, Sumanji didn’t come out as she was not feeling well. I did and got saved, but lost my friend,” Ms. Gohel said.

Residents of the building have blamed the builder for the tragedy. Advocate Sumit Gandhi, a resident, said, “When we took possession, we were told that the building had firefighting equipment but we later found that it was partially equipped. Besides, the refuge area had been encroached upon. Naturally the fire brigade would not give its NOC, and how can we get OC without NOC?”

While the building’s old housing society was a registered one, the redeveloped building did not have a registered society. “We shelled out money to set up fire extinguishers on each floor. We would contribute for maintenance every month. The builder had sold off the free parking and even wanted to sell off mandatory refuge area,” Nitesh Doshi, a resident of 4th floor, said. The residents had been writing to the builder since 2014. In a letter dated September 23, 2017, they wrote, “At present, the fire system is not working and if any incident happens, there may be a loss of property and human life.”

Vivek Waingankar, one of the original residents who lives in A wing, said, “The builder lied to us at the time of possession. After the fire at Crystal Tower in Parel, we realised our case is exactly the same. So we again wrote to him but to no avail.”

Most residents of the building stayed at relatives’ houses on Thursday night. While some residents are planning to come back, others said they will stay with relatives. By Friday night, electric supply is going to be resumed in A and C wings, an official of Adani Electricity said. B wing will require a go-ahead from the fire brigade before power is resumed.

Indumati Kadam, a resident of another society in the same area, said, “Our building was taken for redevelopment by the same builder in 2008. It is still incomplete, and since the beginning of this year, he has stopped paying us rent also. We have filed a case in court against him.”

Meanwhile, the Tilak Nagar police on Friday registered a case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder under the IPC against the builder. “Inquiries so far have revealed that the building was taken over for redevelopment by Reliance Realtors in 2006 and was handed over to the residents in 2014. However, the developers did not have proper fire safety equipment in place and also built a wall on the 15th floor due to which the emergency exit connecting the B and C wings were shut,” Deputy Commissioner of Police (Zone VI) Shahaji Umap said. The police have booked three partners of Reliance Realtors for culpable homicide not amounting to murder and endangering life or personal safety of others under the IPC.

The question remains why the society was allowed to be occupied without an OC. The BMC’s building proposal (BP) department is responsible for flagging unauthorised occupation, but Niranjan Khanolkar, deputy chief engineer, BP, said he did not know about the matter.

Pritiviraj Chavan, assistant municipal commissioner of M West ward, passed the buck, saying the MHADA is the special planning authority (SPA) in this area while MHADA officials told The Hindu that they became SPA only in May this year.

V. N. Panigrahi, deputy chief fire officer, said, “The building had never applied for a fire NOC, so compliances are out of question. Their equipment were only partially installed. We have directed that the B wing’s water and electric supply be disconnected until they comply with the norms and take our NOC.”

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 8:12:57 PM |

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