Arrests in Deonar fire case: Locals smell a rat

After police arrested nine scrap dealers in connection with the Deonar fire, residents allege cops have made up a false case under pressure

After a high-level probe ordered by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, the Mumbai police claim to have solved the case surrounding the Deonar fire that erupted at the dumping ground on January 28.

The Shivaji Nagar police escort some of the accused in the Deonar fire case. Pics/Rajesh Gupta
The Shivaji Nagar police escort some of the accused in the Deonar fire case. Pics/Rajesh Gupta

Sources say that the probe revealed that the cause of the fire wasn't accidental, but the handiwork of scarp dealers. But Deonar residents are of a different opinion. According to police officials, they have arrested nine scrap dealers in the case — Salim Khan, Umar Gani, Hussain Sheikh, Jayprakash Yadav, Ali Baba Sheikh, Sohail Sheikh, Shoaib Sheikh, Rajesh Mahadik and Mohammad Sheikh. A police officer said, "All the accused are residents of the nearby dumping area and have been operating scrap dealing businesses for a few years."

The rag pickers, who work with the scrap dealers, and who are mostly minors, will be made prime witness in the case. It's they who were allegedly directed by the scrap dealers to ignore the plastic and bring back metal which would fetch them good prices. Everything else at the dumping ground was supposed to be burnt. The accused were produced in the Kurla Court on Saturday and sent to judicial custody. This means the police won't get custody of the accused to interrogate them. The accused were charged under Sections 435, 436, 269, 285 and 34.

Several questions are being raised by locals over the arrests. They claim that it was under pressure that the police have made up a false case. One local resident, Rashid Khan, said, "The case does not stand and therefore all the accused were sent to judicial custody the same day. We have been residing here several years and have never witnessed such an incident." Another resident, Imran Sayyed, said, "If this was the case, why haven't such incidents happened in the past? There is something bigger here than it appears."

Reshma Nevrekar, a corporator from Shivaji Nagar, said, "I don't know who the police have arrested and what evidence they have. But merely arresting miscreants will not help. The police and the BMC need to crack down on the illegal scrap and drugs mafia that operates here. They have been occupying shanties illegally. The authorities take bribes from them and avoid taking action. Until this continues, nothing will improve."

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