Sitting at the cash counter of City Kinara restaurant, Sharad Tripathi first saw a spark near the staircase. Then he heard the screams from upstairs. Most of the customers there were college kids and he knew them. But when it came to helping them or saving himself, he chose the latter and took a taxi to the hospital.
Tripathi was sitting at the cash counter on the ground floor when the blaze erupted. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi
The fire went on to kill all eight customers at the restaurant — seven of them were students from the nearby Don Bosco college. Sharad Tripathi, who has been running City Kinara for seven years, was charged for culpable homicide and neglecting fire safety norms (under Sections 304 (2), 285 and 34 of the IPC).
Although City Kinara restaurant was established in the ’60s, Sharad Tripathi took it on lease seven years ago. Pic/Sameer Markande
Cops have been on his trail since the day of the fire, but had not been able to trace him till Saturday. Speaking to mid-day from his hospital bed in the ICCU at Bandra’s Holy Family Hospital, Tripathi said he had checked into the hospital immediately after the fire. He recalled how he got scared when a flaming piece of the wreckage fell on him.
“On Friday, I was sitting at the cash counter when I saw a sudden spark in the wiring near the staircase. I rushed to switch off the main switch there when I heard screams from upstairs. Just as I headed upstairs to try and help those stuck above, a flaming object fell on my forehead and I felt pain. I was trembling and I thought it might be related to the paralytic attack that I had last month. Afraid it was another attack, I rushed to the hospital and have been here since,” said Tripathi, who was dressed in a hospital gown with a small bandage on his forehead.
His wife told this paper that he also suffers from diabetes and blood pressure. She recounted how she heard of the fire and rushed to City Kinara to check on her husband. The couple and their two kids live near the restaurant. Tripathi’s wife arrived at the scene before the fire brigade. She immediately bundled him into a taxi and rushed him to the hospital.
“When I first heard about the deaths, I thought someone from my staff had died. It was only later that I found out through the news that it was the customers. I knew many of them by their faces; my children are of their age. Whatever happened is terrible and I am fully co-operating with the police in investigations,” said Tripathi.
‘Not my fault’
City Kinara was established some time in the 1960s, but it was only seven years ago that Tripathi began to run it, after he took it on lease from the owner, Sudish Hegde. In a report on Saturday, mid-day had highlighted allegations by fire officers that the restaurant had blatantly flouted fire safety norms.
Officials had pointed out that two cylinders had been stored on the mezzanine floor in contravention of regulations, while there was loose wiring from the walls and ceiling of the first floor. They also alleged that the staircase leading from the ground to the mezzanine floor was illegal, and they did not find a single fire extinguisher fit to fight the blaze.
Expressing his sorrow about the disaster and the lives lost, the 51-year-old maintained that he was not responsible. “The mezzanine floor, the gas cylinders and connection had all been there since before I took over the place. I haven’t made any changes,” he said, adding that the eatery had a BMC licence valid till December. Asked why the restaurant did not have a fire extinguisher, he said there was one on the ground floor.
He claimed to have no knowledge of the whereabouts of the staffers — thought to number around 5-6 — who have been untraceable since the fire. He expressed concerns about the business and how it would be affected by the incident.
Doctors treating him did not clarify when Tripathi would be discharged, but confirmed that he had not suffered a paralytic attack. Asked about the treatment, the hospital’s medical director, Dr Armeda Fernandez said,
“I will have to find out and then revert to you.”
Senior Police Inspector Praveen More from VB Nagar police station said, “We are in constant touch with his wife. He shall be arrested by Monday.” Meanwhile, the restaurant owner Hegde, who is currently in Mangalore, is scheduled to arrive soon in Mumbai to give his statement to the police.
Fire officials alleged that the restaurant had flouted several safety norms:
>> Mezzanine floor and staircase were illegal
>> Lack of fire extinguishers
>> Loose wiring on first storey
>> Two gas cylinders in storage on first floor