A day after a mid-day investigation highlighted several glaring lapses in safety norms and procedures while organising the ill-fated Make In India event at Girgaum Chowpatty, officials from various departments and eyewitnesses to the fire disaster are still giving contradictory versions about what happened on Sunday night and in the run-up to it.
The massive fire broke out on Stage during a cultural event 'Maharashtra Night' at the Make In India week in Mumbai almost a week ago. PTI Photo
Even the official responses from different departments don't match. Take, for instance, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis' statement that three fire audits had been conducted by the disaster management department between February 11 and February 14.
"If such a high-level fire audit was conducted, then the disaster should not have occurred in the first place, or at least it would not have been so serious," said a senior police officer.
The police said they received intimation from the fire department about one fire audit being conducted. However, as mid-day had pointed out, there's still no sign of a compliance report to show that all the instructions in the No Objection Certificate (NOC) were followed.
A senior police officer said, "The fire department has given a copy of a letter (NOC copy) stating that the fire audit was conducted a day before the event, but when we inquired about the compliance report, the fire officials had no reply. The fire officers were specifically asked as to whose responsibility it was to ensure compliance –the police, fire department or the organiser. To this, the fire officials stated that it was definitely not the police's duty, they said it was the organiser's responsibility."
When mid-day asked Chief Fire Officer P S Rahangdale why there was no apparent record of the fire audit, he refused to comment. What he did say was that the department's much awaited report on the fire incident will be delayed to next week. "Our investigation is still under process and the report should be ready only by next week," he said.
This will set the entire probe back, as the investigators are also waiting for the fire report before drawing a full conclusion about the incident. Additional Commissioner of Police (south region) Dr Pratap Dighavkar said, "Though we have started recording the statements of eyewitnesses, we are awaiting the fire report and will accordingly take necessary action as per the provisions of law."
The event organiser Wizcraft had earlier told mid-day that a mock drill was carried out a day before the event on Sunday. The courts had specifically said no to fireworks, but the organiser said 'cold pyro' was used after approval from the fire department. Cold pyrotechnics are low-heat and –smoke emitting fireworks. However, at least a couple of eyewitnesses said that the fire was seen to break out after the third round of pyrotechnics.
"A day before the event, we participated in the mock drill that was conducted at the event venue, along with disaster management and fire departments, as well as police and traffic personnel. The original plan was to keep the firecrackers in and around the dais, as is done at other events. But the fire officials categorically asked us to move the firecrackers out of the venue, and this instruction was strictly followed by us. All firecrackers (mostly aerial fireworks) that would have been used post the event, were kept outside the venue on the beachfront," said Sabbas Joseph, a director at Wizcraft International Entertainment (Pvt) Limited.
When asked if they had used pyrotechnics on the dais, Joseph replied in the affirmative. "Cold pyros were used only after it was approved and checked by the fire department," he said.
Ismail Shaikh, the electrical contractor who was hired by Wizcraft, told the investigators that he was standing opposite the stage, behind the VIP area, when the fire started from beneath the stage. He stated that pyrotechnics were used twice, and the third time, it ignited the equipment, clothes, wooden planks, drapery and other combustible material stored beneath the stage.
Another eyewitness, Sanjay Gupta, a crane operator at the venue, told mid-day that the programme had started around 7.30 pm, and around 8.20, he witnessed fireworks. Suddenly, thick smoke and fire began to emerge from beneath the stage.
The flames spread rapidly, and within minutes, the stage, light equipment and decorative materials were gutted.
All hell could have broken loose on stage last Sunday had the blaze broken out just a few minutes later, as the next performance was supposed to be a grand tribute to Shivaji Maharaj, with not just hundreds of men and women playing dhol-tasha, but also 12 horses performing onstage.
The dhol-tasha troupe rehearsing before the event
Instead, the fire started towards the end of the lavani performance, while the horses and the dhol-tasha troupe were waiting in the stage wings. An eyewitness said the police prevented major havoc by ensuring the horses were moved a safe distance. A senior police officer present at the venue confirmed the entire episode.
If CM Devendra Fadnavis says a fire-audit has been conducted, then why haven't these questions been answered yet?
1 Why was the safety compliance report not submitted and followed?
2 Why was the usage of pyrotechnic not stopped?
3 Why were combustible materials like card boards, paints and adhesives allowed to be kept under the stage?
4 Why were explosives and inflammable materials like gas cylinders allowed near the stage?
5 Why was the path of two fire engines stationed at the venue obstructed?
6 Why were electrical switches allowed under the stage?