Citing discrepancy in 'cause of fire' reports, state government hands out piddly Rs 1 lakh compensation to the eight families that lost their children in the City Kinara hotel fire in Kurla
Jacqueline D’Souza, mother of Erwin D'Souza, at his funeral on October 17, 2015
Sixteen months after a major fire gutted City Kinara hotel in Kurla, killing eight people, the cause of the blaze continues to remain a mystery.
The Mumbai Fire Brigade, HPCL, and the Public Works Department have submitted three different reports for the cause of the mishap, creating a major hurdle for investigators in the case, in which the chargesheet has already been prepared, pending trial.
Relatives of the deceased outside the Lokayukta building on Monday
Yesterday, a letter from the suburban collector dated January 18 that was submitted to the Lokayukta, stating that compensation of Rs 1 lakh each to the affected families has been deposited in the Kurla tehsildar's bank account for disbursement, mentioned that a cylinder blast was the reason for the accident.
City-based lawyer-turned-activist Godfrey Peminta said the charge sheet mentions that the fire reports submitted by the three agencies (fire brigade, HPCL and PWD) contradict each other — the fire department claims that leaked and accumulated LPG from the defective main valve/regulator assembly of the cylinder came in contact with unknown ignition sources, while HPCL's report states that there was no gas leakage and that the fire might have been due to a short circuit; PWD, on the other hand, has submitted an inconclusive report, stating that the cause could not ascertained as the entire mezzanine floor was gutted and no evidence was left.
"Now, with the collector's letter clearly stating that the mishap happened due to a cylinder blast, every affected family is entitled for a compensation of Rs 40 lakh as per the Public Liability Insurance Act, which covers oil and petroleum gas products," said Peminta.
"We are not satisfied with the compensation announced by the CM; I have instructed the families to accept the amount but 'under protest'. We want to challenge this in the Bombay High Court, wherein even HPCL will be made a respondent."
Deputy municipal commissioner BR Marathe informed the Lokaykuta that two of the sanitary inspectors from L ward have been found guilty of dereliction of duty and that a show-cause notice has been issued to them regarding the quantum of punishment, which is pending.
The activist, however, said that this action is nothing but an eyewash as neither the police nor HPCL have taken any action against Laxmi Gas Agency, which is an HPCL authorised dealer in Kurla (East), as the hotel was not a registered customer of HPCL. Action should have been taken against the LPG dealer for blackmarketing of gas cylinders, something even the Mumbai Fire Brigade's report recommends, he alleged.
"As the Lokaykuta has limited scope to hear such cases, we have no option but to approach the HC, where we will be filing a criminal writ petition, highlighting all the lapses in the investigation and the amount of compensation granted to the families," he added.
For Sion-Koliwada resident Rekha Thapar (48), whose son Akash (19) was charred to death in the eatery, the compensation announced is salt on her wounds. "My husband has been bedridden for the last 15 years. I take private tuition classes. Akash was pursuing engineering and was confident of supporting us financially. But now, we have lost everything. We will move the high court for justice."
When asked about the reason for not intimating the families on the compensation till now, a staffer at the collector's office said, "As most of the staff was busy with election duty, we had to wait for everything to be over, including the results, before informing them."
Rs 1 Lakh Compensation announced for every affected family
Rs 40 Lakh Amount the deceased’s kin are entitled to as per lawyer-activist