As the fire at Metro House spread, tourists filled the lanes, taking pictures and videos. The air was filled with smoke and many struggled to breathe, but there was no stopping the cameras and the crowds.
Crowds gathered on Colaba Causeway held up firefighting operations. Pic/Bipin Kokate
Renu Pradhan, who was at Colaba with her teenage children, said, "This is the first time I am seeing the fire brigade in action. It is really nice to see them. Sadly, the police are not allowing us to stand and watch."
In pictures: Fire engulfs commercial area in Colaba, Mumbai
Colaba residents Subhash Motwani and Pervez Cooper, and businessman Haresh Hathiramani blame hawkers for choking the locality
Behind the building, too, gathered a large crowd, leaving no space for fire engines and trucks. Pankaj Mhatre, an officer with the Colaba police station, said, "People don't care about the situation. They just want to make videos and click pictures. Social media has made people crazy. This is a law and order situation. People have gathered here as though some tamasha is on while a crisis is at hand."
Many people got down on their knees to shoot videos of the fire with their smartphones, even as the police started shooing the crowd away with batons. Tanay Khan, a Chembur resident who works in Colaba, said, "The police are treating us like cattle. This is not the way to shoo people away. They should have cordoned off the area better." He then got back to another space to make shoot videos and take pictures.
Social media was abuzz with many pictures and videos of the incident. Haresh Hathiramani, who has a shop at Colaba Causeway, said, "Hawkers are the main cause of this problem. Time and again, we have been telling the BMC and the police that if there is a fire, there will be no way for the fire engines to come in as the area is choked with hawkers. And this is exactly what happened. Videos on Whatsapp show the hawkers just leaving behind their wares and running when the fire began. Had they not been there, evacuation would have been faster."
Pervez Cooper, a Colaba resident, said, "The Causeway was in a mess. There was a huge traffic jam and hawkers moved to the remainder stretch of Shahid Bhagat Singh Marg. Illegal hawkers need to go. We need a better Colaba which in situations like does not have problems, where a fire cannot be put out because of congestion."
Colaba residents are hoping that this incident makes the authorities more accountable and reins in the hawker menace. "Corportators and the ward officers need to make Colaba safer and an ideal heritage zone by first removing illegal hawkers and beggars. The fire tenders were struggling for hours because of the crowd as well as anti-social elements in the lanes of Colaba, which have all been caused by hawkers being allowed to grow in numbers," said Subhash Motwani, another resident.