Mumbai: Probe panel puts Kamala Mills owner in the dock

Mumbai: Taking a note of the ‘alarming’ number of fire mishaps in Mumbai, a three-member judicial commission has strongly condemned the ‘rampant’ illegalities in Kamala Mills Compound. While recommending ‘appropriate’ action against the owner – Ramesh Gowani – the commission has also expressed its concern over the illegalities and breach of laws.

The commission was appointed by the Bombay High Court, earlier this year, to probe the massive fire which broke out in the Kamala Mills compound on December 29, 2017. A total of 13 persons had lost their lives in the incident. In its detailed 206-page report, the commission headed by Chief Justice (retired) Arvind Savant has also recommended action against the owners of the 1Above and Mojo Bristo restaurants along with the officials of the BMC and the government – for dereliction of duty.

“We strongly condemn the illegalities and recommend that proper checks and balances must be provided and strictly implemented, wherever violations are detected. The action must be carried to its logical end — such as demolition, cancellation of the No Objection Certificates, licenses, permissions and approvals, followed by initiation of criminal proceedings, in accordance with law,” the commission has said.

“This has undoubtedly led to a lot of unhealthy practices, which are too well known to be elaborated upon. We say so because the frequency with which the tragedies, such as the one we are dealing with, are occurring, is alarming. We may make a reference to the recent tragedy which occurred at Crystal Tower in Parel, Mumbai,” the commission has said in its report.

As far as Ramesh Gowani is concerned, the commission has considered the fact that he has 95 per cent shares in the Kamala Mills land and, accordingly, harboured several illegalities by eateries and other companies operating from the plot. The commission has also taken into account the ‘excessive’ use by Gowani under the guise of using the premises for office. The commission further considered that Gowani earned over Rs 38.42 lakh per month from both the restaurants as rent.

“We have no hesitation in concluding that Gowani has committed serious deviations and violations of the two NOCs granted by the Fire Officer. In fact, it is clear that the conditions of the two NOCs were honoured by him more in breach than in observance. Hence necessarily action needs to be initiated against him for the breaches,” the commission report states.

“We hold that Gowani has committed serious violations of the modified DCR rules by illegally consuming FSI for commercial purposes, in excess of the permissible 20 per cent of the total FSI. Hence, necessary action must be initiated against him for these violations at the earliest. While discussing the bid by Gowani to ‘fabricate’ the evidence by razing the illegally constructed toilet of the 1Above restaurant, the commission has referred to its visit in May 2018. The commission has accordingly said this ‘conduct’ of Gowani shows he had full access and control over the illegalities.

The report also refers to a ‘strange’ contention raised by Gowani that the alleged violation committed by him were the ‘most common’ ones by the majority of the establishments in the entire Kamala Mills compound. “This shows that Gowani and the owners of the two restaurants clearly admit having committed the violations. That apart; if it is true that the violations are rampant, it is high time that the concerned officers, both of the BMC and of the government, should take immediate action and if the alleged violations are found to have been committed, the action should be carried to its logical end,” the commission has noted.

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