Mumbai: The Bombay High Court has asked the state government and the BMC to consider setting up a permanent mechanism to regulate eateries, hotels and restaurants, so that the safety issues of the citizens are addressed. These observations were made when the division bench of justices R M Borde and R G Ketkar was hearing a PIL seeking a judicial inquiry into the Kamala Mills fire on December 29 last year.
The judge observed that rampant violations of norms and regulations was seen in the Kamala Mills fire and there was no guarantee similar incidents will not happen again. “There are rampant violations and something may happen again. Something can go wrong in another place. We expect you to give suggestions for a permanent and independent mechanism to keep a tab on violations,” said Borde.
The judges further observed that Kamala Mills was not the only incident of its kind. In fact, there had been many fires in the city since this incident. “The safety of the citizens should be of paramount concern. Look how many fires have broken out this year,” Borde said. The judges pointed out that the terrace in the ill-fated building was illegally occupied and licences were given to the two eateries after throwing norms to the wind.
They demanded to know why open spaces and common areas like lobby, parking and terrace are encroached upon. In Kamala Mills premises, the two eateries were constructed in the open space on the terrace, which should have been a ‘shared’ area. “We do not understand how a hotel or pub can be permitted to operate on the terrace of a building? A terrace is supposed to be a common open area accessible to all occupants of the building,” Borde said.
Speaking of the fire in Kamala Mills, the BMC counsel, Anil Sakhre, admitted that the two eateries — 1Above and Mojo’s Bistro — had obtained permissions by misrepresentation of facts with the connivance of some BMC officials. “An inquiry has been initiated against 12 officers,” Sakhre informed the court. The court also asked the BMC to give details of its roof top policy. They noted that the policy was mentioned on the site, however no details had been uploaded. Sakhre informed the court a new policy was in place. The bench then directed him to submit before it the details and also all the licences granted to the two pubs where the fire had occurred.
The court also observed the current case should go beyond Kamala Mills incident. Even road side food stalls need to adhere to fire safety norms. The PIL, filed last month by Mumbai’s former police commissioner Julio Ribeiro, also sought a direction to the government and the civic body to carry out a fire safety audit of all eateries and restaurants. The court has posted the petition for hearing on February 14.