A mid-day investigation into the circumstances of Sunday’s fire at a Make in India event at Girgaum Chowpatty has revealed several procedural lapses. The most significant among them is the absence of any fire audit on the records of the fire department.
A massive blaze had engulfed the stage of the show held at Girgaum Chowpatty on Sunday night, where several film stars and politicians were present. Pic/PTI
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had said after the blaze that a fire audit was conducted four days before the event. mid-day has reliably learned that the fire department did not conduct any such audit of the venue. No other external agency besides the Mumbai Fire Brigade is empowered by the civic body to conduct a fire audit.
The Chief Fire Officer and his personnel, who were present at the event at Girgaum Chowpatty, ignored the presence of fireworks. Pyrotechnics were also used at the event despite a strict order from the court not to do so. Pic/Bipin Kokate
mid-day has learned that only a no-objection certificate was issued three days before the event, listing the dos and don’ts for the event.
The fire department issued the NOC (serial number FBL/415/RI/706) dated February 11, 2016, to the organiser Wizcraft International Entertainment (Pvt) Limited to organise the cultural program on February 14, 2016 from 4 pm to 11 pm.
Had a proper audit been conducted, as claimed by the CM, several lapses that have now been identified could have been avoided, probably averting the blaze. It is not even clear whether the fire department issued the mandatory Compliance Report to the organisers ensuring if all the dos and don’ts stated in the NOC were followed.
If an organiser does not comply with fire norms, the department is empowered to postpone the event or allow it to go ahead after ensuring that objectionable items are removed. Despite the courts strictly saying no fireworks or pyrotechnics were to be used, they were used at the event. The Chief Fire Officer and his personnel, who were present at the event ignored their presence.
mid-day has also learned that the stage, woodwork, decorative textiles and fabrics were not painted with fire retardant material, something mandated for events in open spaces near the sea front, where strong breeze can stoke a fire.
“The event was funded by public money and the organiser was not doing any charity,” said an official privy to the investigation. “They should have ensured that all fire safety norms were followed for such a sensitive event attended by national personalities and international delegates.”
How the fire started
The fire department said the fire broke out at 8.25 pm. It started from the electric wirings and installations on the stage. Apart from various materials used for stage decoration and cameras, LCD screens and speakers and amplifiers, 6 LPG cylinders of 17.1 kg each of GO Gas Company, 15 carbon dioxide gas cylinders, fireworks, towers constructed for display of fireworks on and around the stage, etc were gutted in the fire.
A fire officer said Wizcraft was informed about the positions for fire engines during the mock drill on February 13. But on February 14, the fire engines had to be parked away from the stage because vanity vans were parked at the designated spots. The organiser was asked to remove the vanity vans, but they could not do so. There were also barricades and door frame metal detectors obstructing the fire engines.
Why the fire spread
According to fire officials present at the spot, the large stock of combustible materials used for the construction of stage and temporary structures caught fire immediately.
By the time the fire was noticed, it had already grown drastically, which could not be brought under control by using first stage fire extinguishers, as wind velocity was high. An LPG gas cylinder stored by a subcontractor for lighting the outline of a Ganpati statute exploded.
Stock of other combustible materials like paints/adhesives materials stored under the stage and hydraulic oil that leaked from heavy-duty cranes fuelled the fire.
Additional fire fighting forces could not reach to the venue due to traffic jams.
The time when the sparks erupted from the electric wirings and installations on the stage
Lapses that helped the fire spread rapidly:
>> Vanity vans parked where fire engines should have been
>> Combustible material stored under the stage
>> Barricades, door frame metal detectors obstructed fire engines
>> LPG cylinders, carbon dioxide cylinders stored near stage
1 It is common practice to appoint the chief fire officer of another metro to head probes into sensitive cases. Why was it not done this time?
2 Why was a board under the leadership of fire advisor, Government of Maharashtra, constituted to probe the incident?
3 Why were fire retardant materials not used for construction and decoration of the stage?
4 Why was the safety compliance report not submitted and followed?
5 Why was the usage of pyrotechnic not stopped?
6 Why were combustible materials like card boards, paints and adhesives allowed to be kept under the stage?
7 Why were explosives and inflammable materials like gas cylinders allowed near the stage?
8 Why was the path of two fire engines stationed at the venue obstructed?
9 Why were electrical switches allowed under the stage?
What the courts stated
Bombay High Court
The Bombay High Court had denied permission for the event at Girgaum Chowpatty. The Maharashtra government then filed an application before the High Court after a committee, appointed by the court in 2001 to monitor activities on the beach, asked the government to seek the court’s permission. The application stated that it proposed to host a Maharashtra Night on February 14 at Girgaum Chowpatty to showcase its art and culture and industrial development, adding that the event would end with a laser show and fireworks display. The High Court, while refusing to grant permission, had observed that permitting the state government to hold such functions on the beach will fault the guidelines of the committee.
The order about holding the event at Girgaum Chowpatty was pronounced by a three-judge bench headed by Justice T S Thakur. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, who appeared for the Maharashtra Government, told the apex court that the function relates to national pride, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and representatives of 56 countries would attend the event.
"If the Prime Minister’s function is not allowed on Girgaum Chowpatty, then the government will also not be allowed to hold the Republic Day function at India Gate," he added.