12 killed in Sakinaka fire: Mumbai farsan factory worker's sleepless night saved his life

Dec 19, 2017, 16:50 IST | Sailee Dhayalkar, Chetna Yerunkar and Rupsa Chakraborty

Preliminary report declares processing unit illegal; BMC commissioner orders inquiry

As many as 12 workers in a snacks factory at Sakinaka lost their lives after a blaze tore through the building early on Monday morning. The structure had no fire exit or ventilation, leaving the victims to suffocate in the smoke, with no hope of escape. Civic authorities have also found that the factory was running without permissions; they have now launched an inquiry into the matter.

The gutted Bhanu Farsan factory was running without any of the required permissions, said civic officials. Pics/Datta Kumbhar
The gutted Bhanu Farsan factory was running without any of the required permissions, said civic officials. Pics/Datta Kumbhar

The fire broke out at Bhanu Farsan factory on Khairnar road around 3.40 am on Monday, while the workers were fast asleep. From the 20 people in the building, only eight managed to escape the flames.

As many as 12 people were dug out of the debris and rushed to Rajawadi Hospital, where they declared dead on arrival. The bodies were charred beyond recognition, with 60-70 per cent burns - two of the victims suffered 100 per cent burns. The condition of two bodies was so severe that doctors couldn't even identify their gender. "We identified the bodies with the help of identification marks and belongings," said Dr Vidya Thakur, medical superintendent of Rajawadi hospital.

Thanks to a sleepless night, Akhilesh Tiwari was able to jump out in time to escape the blaze
Thanks to a sleepless night, Akhilesh Tiwari was able to jump out in time to escape the blaze

However, forensic experts who conducted the autopsy stated that the burns was not the sole cause of death - all of them had choked to death. "The burns were serious, but as per forensic analysis, there was also smoke in their lungs. This shows that probably due to lack of ventilation, smoke had filled the room, gradually choking them," said a doctor.

It is suspected that the 12 deceased got trapped on an illegal loft, which subsequently collapsed in the fire
It is suspected that the 12 deceased got trapped on an illegal loft, which subsequently collapsed in the fire

As per one of the survivors, there was no ventilation in the building, which led to smoke suffocating the victims. This was corroborated by PS Rahangdale, chief of the Fire Brigade, who said, "Fire safety rules were not followed inside the factory. There was no fire exit or proper ventilation. Workers were trapped inside."

Thought to have been sparked by a short circuit and gas leak, the fire was fuelled by gas cylinders and kerosene used to cook snacks at the factory
Thought to have been sparked by a short circuit and gas leak, the fire was fuelled by gas cylinders and kerosene used to cook snacks at the factory

Breaking all rules
Since the fire, the authorities have discovered that the factory owner had not just flouted fire safety rules, but was also running the workshop without the required permissions. BMC officials suspect further irregularities as well, such as the alleged construction of an illegal loft.

Tushar Pawar
Tushar Pawar

Preliminary investigation by the civic body has found the processing unit to be illegal. Civic chief Ajoy Mehta has ordered a thorough inquiry into the matter, demanding a full report in 15 days. The deputy municipal commissioner (Central Purchase Department) will investigate the irregularities of the structure, if any. The inquiry will also cover whether all requisite licenses were issued or not, and whether any civic officials were negligent.

BMC officials have already found a few irregularities. "The occupier had lied to us while applying for the Shops and Establishments licence by stating that there would be five workers at the factory," said Ajitkumar Ambi, assistant municipal commissioner of L-ward.

He added, "According to the locals, there was a shoes and garments godown here in the past, which was later converted to a farsan factory about a year-and-a-half ago. While doing so, no permission was taken by the owner or the occupier." Ambi further mentioned that if need be, neighbouring structures in the area will also be surveyed for safety purposes, once the inquiry report on the fire is out.

Deadly loft?
Sources said that there was no clarity yet on whether the 1,800-sqft structure itself had any irregularities. An L-ward official said, "The locals have said that a loft was built there, but we could not confirm this, as the structure collapsed during the fire. It will be investigated in the due course of inquiry."

It is suspected that the 12 deceased were trapped on this loft, before it collapsed. "On initial enquiry, we have learnt that 12 workers got trapped on the loft area. The fire was started at the ground floor, and everyone on the loft got trapped due to the intense heat and smoke. The loft subsequently collapsed," said a fire official at the spot.

Fire officials said they got a call around 4.17 am and they arrived on the scene around 4.34 am, with three fire engines and four jumbo tankers in tow. According to officials, the blaze was fuelled by electric wiring and installations, as well as the huge stock of eatables, furniture, sheets and other flammable items.

Cops question owner
Cops have found that the building's occupant, Ramesh Bhanushali, had developed the farsan factory over the last two-and-a-half years. During questioning, he told the police that he has all required permissions, but they burnt in the fire. The BMC has already declared his claims to be false, while the cops told this paper that they are investigating if Bhanushali had all the licences to run the factory. The Sakinaka police have lodged an accidental death report for now, and are waiting for reports from the fire brigade and BMC before taking further action.

Saved by a sleepless night
Minutes before the fire, all was quiet at the Bhanu Farsan factory. Work was long over for the day, and the workers were fast asleep, all except Akhilesh Tiwari who kept tossing and turning through the night. Then came the fire. "I heard a sound at 3.40 am, and immediately knew that something was wrong, so I jumped from the window. There were many gas cylinders and kerosene there to cook the snacks. They must have fed the fire," he recalled. Jumping from the window led to both his heels getting fractured, but Akhilesh is grateful that he at least lived to tell the tale. He hopes to recover and get back on his feet in a couple of months.

'We saw people trapped inside, but couldn't do anything to help them'
Tushar Pawar and his mother Lata lived right beside the factory. Like the workers inside the building, Tushar slept right through the blast. His mother , however, was wide awake. She was blind, but had a heightened sense of smell. All night, she was on edge, with the nagging feeling that she could smell gas in the air. Then she heard a bang. "My mother started shouting and woke me up when she heard the blast. At first, I thought it was a robbery, but then I noticed the fire. I woke other residents, and we tried to douse the fire, but failed. Then we called the fire brigade," Tushar recounted. "We saw people trying to get out of the blazing building, but they were trapped. In no time, the whole structure started burning, and our house also caught fire. We escaped, but the fire burnt all our belongings. I had to borrow clothes from my friends. My mother was so traumatised that she has been admitted at Rajawadi hospital," he added.

'No money for last rites'
Four months ago, when Shivnarayan Prajapati, 21, came to Mumbai from Nepal for work, his family thought they were finally going to see some good times. They sent him to Mumbai, never suspecting that this would be the last time they would see him. Prajapati hailed from a very poor family, and was the sole breadwinner. The family does not even have the money to perform his last rites. His cousin Guruprasad has come to the city to identify the body. He said, "Prajapati has two younger brothers and one sister. His parents are very old, and he was the only support of the family. They are so poor that they don't even have money to travel to Mumbai to perform the last rites."

Short circuit and gas leak?
Police officers on the spot told mid-day that one of the survivors, Akhilesh Tiwari, said that he had seen smoke and sparks in the factory. According to the fire brigade. prima facie, the fire seems to have been caused by a short circuit and gas leak.

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