Mumbai: Nearly 40 hours after the massive fire in a suburban mall claimed 11 lives in a Covid hospital in the same premises, hundreds of angry and weeping store-owners confronted the government with the huge losses they have suffered in the blaze, here on Saturday.
The conflagration broke out on the first floor of the Dreams Mall in Bhandup just before midnight late on Thursday - quickly spread to the second floor and then engulfed the third floor where the Sunrise Hospital treating Covid-19 patients is located.
While more than 65 patients were safely rescued, 11 patients succumbed to the flames, mostly senior citizens on ventilator.
The cause of the fire is not known, and the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has ordered a detailed probe into the tragedy.
I had two shops with nearly Rs 80 lakh of stocks, plus cash and other valuables Everything is reduced to ashes...How will I survive and support my family? From where I will repay the debts nowStore owner
In a related development, the Sunrise Hospitals head of Operations Satyendra Tiwari has lodged a complaint with Bhandup Police Station against the Dreams Mall's NCLT appointed Administrator Rahul Sahasrabuddhe for not taking adequate precautions which led to the blaze, loss of precious lives and other damage to the properties.
Amid allegations that the sprawling premises allegedly did not have the relevant permissions, hundreds of store-owners in the mall on Saturday demanded entry to check on their ravaged units but were blocked by the police and fire brigade as the cooling operations were underway.
When Minorities Affairs Minister Nawab Malik visited them, scores of them, including some weeping, narrated their plight over the complete destruction and how it would affect their sheer chances of survival.
Giving them a sympathetic hearing, Minister Malik assured he would raise their grievances with Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and the government would try to work out a solution.
The shopkeepers said there are more than 500 shops/units functioning inside the mall and all were looking for brisk sales in the upcoming Holi festival and the marriage seasons, their first major opportunity after nearly 10 months of lockdown in the Corona pandemic.
"I had two shops with nearly Rs.80-lakh of stocks, plus cash and other valuables Everything is reduced to ashes...How will I survive and support my family? From where I will repay the debts now," wailed one woman.
Another trader said he had invested all his life-savings in his shop and after hoping to stabilise the business after the year-long pandemic losses, this was the second huge shock for him, raising questions on his very survival.
A woman with three outlets inside the mall said besides her regular and new festival stocks, even her safe-deposit boxes with cash and other important papers are finished and appealed to the government for help.
Suspecting sabotage, one businessman wondered how mall fires usually seem to take place at night when nobody is around and sought an investigation to ascertain if something is amiss.
Several others recounted similar tales of woe that have hit them and a few even rued that it would have been better if they had also perished in the fire, as there is no help forthcoming from any quarters.