Rajat Sharma

The Mumbai rooftop inferno

aaj ki baat (002)On Thursday midnight, 14 people, including eleven women, died and over 50 people were injured in a blaze that swept through two illegal rooftop restaurants in one of the nightlife hubs of Mumbai metropolis. Most of the deaths occurred due to suffocation as the women had locked themselves inside a washroom to save themselves from the blaze. Within half an hour, the fire completed gutted a rooftop restro-bar and an adjoining cafe, trapping guests because of narrow exits. Kamala Mills compound in Lower Parel houses nearly 35 restro-bars, several corporate offices and news channels. Police is now on the lookout of the absconding restro-bar managers and owners, but the deaths of 14 people have laid bare the venality of the entire system that includes the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the fire brigade and police.

It raises questions about how safe are our public spaces. This year we saw people dying in a stampede at a temple, people losing their lives in another stampede on a railway foot overbridge and now this midnight inferno. After every tragedy, an inquiry is ordered, and two or three persons are made the scapegoats, but the fact remains that even after 70 years of independence, there is no guarantee of safety for people in public places, nor has the system been able to make people aware about their security and safety.

One of the local BJP MPs in Mumbai has blamed the Shiv Sena that runs the BMC for allowing these illegal restro-bars to run. There were over 36 restaurants in the Kamala Mills compound alone. Hundreds of people visit these restaurants daily, but nobody knows how many of them are legal, and how many are being run illegally with slush money. Nobody knows how many restaurants strictly adhere to fire safety norms, or how many of them have fire safety approvals from the fire brigade authorities. Most of these restaurants run illegally because of patronage of local politicians and bureaucrats. Arraigning four or five accused persons for this inferno will not suffice. There must be strict safety audit of all restaurants that run in Mumbai, and those shielding illegal restaurants must be punished.

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