Even as the entire world including India is celebrating and enjoying the emergence of the new year – 2018, my heart goes for the families who lost their near ones and dear ones in the midnight inferno that took lives of as many as 15 people in a span of two hours and left the Trade Tower Building in Kamala Mills Compound in South-Central Mumbai and nearby structures in bad shape. The time has come, when all those who care for the safety and security of the city, to put their heads down and try to find out ways and means to avoid such tragedies. In the span of mere six months, the city witnessed at least five incidents in which more than a score people succumbed for no fault of theirs. That gives me a feeling of being left to the mercy of the God as the administrators of the city, whether the Civic Body or the State or the Central Governments have proven their inability to protect its citizens.
I am agonised and angry ever since I watched the footage of the fire on Television screen and read about the incident of fire. I could have pardoned the administration if this fire that erupted little after midnight could be termed as ‘an act of the God’. But going by the circumstantial evidence that is reaching the surface, I am afraid it was not ‘an act of the God’ but a case of ‘culpable homicide’ that worked because of negligence and corruption. And believe me, the buck cannot be passed on to the people who had assembled for the ‘Happy Birthday Party’. They had come there to enjoy the birthday bash; instead failed to the fury of the fire.
Where does the buck stop?
The buck stops at the officers of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation, the Mumbai Fire Brigade and also the Urban Development Ministry of the Maharashtra Government. Now, that Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and also the Mayor of Mumbai Vishwanath Mahadeshwar have ordered inquiries, sooner than later, the names of the culprits should surface. However, considering the fact that there is always a hand-in-glove situation among officers and the elected representatives along with their political bosses, it is difficult to believe that the truth would ever come to light. A few suspensions and a couple of transfers along with big statements from leaders will mar the show.
On Friday morning – within 12 hours of the most unfortunate incident, I happened to be on the site (my work place is in the vicinity of the Kamala Mill Compound) only to find half a dozen political leaders taking stroll at the site of the incident and making every attempt to catch the sight of the TV cameramen present there. The similar scenes I had witnessed when the tragedy of Elphinston Railway foot-over bridge stampede took place. Our so called leaders rush there not to help the sufferers but to grab footage. While getting themselves engaged in their self-promotion activity, they coolly make the rescue operations more difficult. Anyway, that’s the way we function even 70 years after the self rule.
The questions are many, though very difficult to expect true and believable answers. However, as a media person, it is my duty and responsibility to raise questions. The first question is – who permitted the use of the terrace for running a restaurant when there were no adequate arrangements for safety and security of the customers? The 1Above Pub, where the party was in progress when the fire broke out, had only one access gate that too, too narrow to evacuate people in case of emergency. Why and how the municipal license to run a pub was granted to the management of 1Above? Who were the BMC/Government officials responsible for carrying out the inspection of the site and later granting the permission? TV footage showed that apparently, the inspector of the BMC in his report had clearly pointed out the unauthorised structures and thus, opined that the permission should not be granted. However, this remark was overlooked or ignored for obvious reasons. The erring officers need to be booked and severely punished under IPC for alleged culpable homicide. Will that ever happen?
The extensive piece of land that at one time used for running a textile mill by the management of Kamala Mills has now been converted into a commercial property. Apart from many corporate offices, this compound also provides room for a Recreation Park where hundreds of small children visit every evening, more than 50 eating houses and a newspaper office and also five TV Channels. While trying to accommodate all these heavy-duty activities and a huge thoroughfare of people along with their cars, the designers of the complex have not only ignored the basic civic rules and norms, but also ignored the safety rules for free movement of fire tenders and also adequate emergency exit routes in each structure.
Not only Kamala Mills; many others too
There are many shortcomings in providing basic measures to the management of the Kamala Mills and also many such complexes in the area. It surely means a lot of under the table dealings have taken place in granting permissions for erecting commercial offices, hotels, restaurants, bars and also malls. What is surprising is that the BMC officers, who make the lives of the common citizens a hell in granting ‘Occupation Certificates’ to middle-class societies for years for the want of meagre fulfillments, easily ignore colossal disobedience from the rich builders. Why do the city fathers, local members of Assembly and Parliament tolerate this corruption? Is it only ignorance or something more that what meets the eye? The enquiry should demystify this aspect also.
At the end, whether the Elphinstone Road tragedy, Kamala Mill fire or collapses of buildings in the suburbs, all these incidents are only the symptoms of the fact that the city has started ruining and stinking. If no action is taken now, tomorrow would be too late. We call the city of Mumbai as ‘Maximum City’ with a great pride. This ‘Maximum City’ now subjected to ‘Maximum Atrocities’. Do we deserve this state of affairs when the nation is developing many more ‘Smart Cities’ all over?
The author is a political analyst and former