Rajkot fire tragedy: HC asks why civic chief was not suspended for 'inaction'

Gujarat High Court criticises State Government over Rajkot fire incident, questions lack of action against officials, demands accountability

Published - June 06, 2024 07:05 pm IST - Ahmedabad

A firefighter moves among burnt debris the day after a fire broke out in an amusement park in Rajkot, on May 26, 2024.

A firefighter moves among burnt debris the day after a fire broke out in an amusement park in Rajkot, on May 26, 2024. | Photo Credit: AP

The Gujarat High Court on June 6 came down heavily on the State Government over the Rajkot game zone fire that killed 27 persons last month, and sought to know why the then chief of the local civic body was not suspended for not taking action against the facility that was being run without permission.

The High Court expressed anger after learning that though a demolition notice was served to the TRP Game Zone, where the devastating fire took place on May 25, by the Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC) in June last year, no action was taken for one year against the facility by the civic body, whose commissioner was Anand Patel at that time.

A Special Bench of Justices Biren Vaishnav and Devan Desai of the High Court was hearing a suo motu PIL it had taken up on May 26, a day after the fire accident at TRP Game Zone in Rajkot.

During a hearing held on June 6, RMC’s lawyer G.H. Virk, through an affidavit, informed the court that no periodic checks were carried out by the RMC’s fire department at the TRP Game Zone and there was no compliance of the safety measures in accordance with the Fire Safety Act.

It was also revealed during the hearing that the game zone owners never applied for any fire NOC and the facility was running without any police permission, which is mandatory under section 33(w) of the Gujarat Police Act.

The court was also apprised of the RMC’s Town Planning Department knew about the illegal structure and a notice for demolition was given in June 2023. Prior to that, a notice was also given in April 2023 to remove the unauthorized construction under the provisions of the Municipal Corporation Act.

“So you fired the Town Planning Officer. But why was the then municipal commissioner not suspended? The responsibility lies at the top. A demolition order was passed in June 2023. Then what happened after that? You rested in peace till 27 lives were lost. You did nothing for one year,” said Justice Vaishnav.

He even asked why Indian Penal Code (IPC) Section 302 (murder) should not be invoked against IAS officer Patel, who was the commissioner at the time of the incident and then transferred without a posting by the State Government.

In the RMC’s defence, Mr. Virk told the Bench that Mr. Patel was unaware of the unauthorised structure because fire officers of the RMC never marked any communication regarding the game zone to Mr. Patel ever since it came up on a piece of land in 2021.

Advocate General Kamal Trivedi assured the Bench that action will be taken once the State Government-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) submits its final report.

Mr. Trivedi said the SIT has been given a deadline to submit its report by June 20.

When Justice Vaishnav asked if the State Government intends to fix the responsibility of senior officers in such situations, Mr. Trivedi said the government was waiting for the final SIT report for further action.

“RMC officers neither took action against the management nor did they bring the game zone issue to Patel’s notice. SIT has named these officials. They cannot get away from the clutches of law. I assure you,” Mr. Trivedi said, adding that the State Government has refused to grant any extension to the SIT and the probe panel has been asked to submit a report by June 20.

When Mr. Trivedi said since India is a democratic country and officials cannot be sent to the gallows without any probe, Justice Vaishnav said, “They have to go to the gallows if they are guilty.” “This time, we want to see that no municipal commissioner, incumbent or present, of all municipal corporations, must be held personally liable for such incidents. They can not just sit in officers and pass on the buck,” said Justice Vaishnav.

The Bench has scheduled the further hearing on June 13.

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