Bandra mall blaze: Illegal shops flourish in basement

Jul 22, 2015, 06:53 IST | Tanvi Deshpande

Locals and activists allege that the fire was sparked by a short circuit, in turn caused by electrical overload due to illegal stalls operating in the mall’s basement; mall did not even have fire-fighting equipment

Two months after the Kalbadevi fire woke the city authorities to the dangers of illegal encroachment and overcrowding, the same factors led to yet another blaze at a Bandra mall yesterday.

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Firemen attempt to douse the fire at Kenilworth Mall on Linking Road on Tuesday morning. Pic/Rane Ashish
Firemen attempt to douse the fire at Kenilworth Mall on Linking Road on Tuesday morning. Pic/Rane Ashish

According to locals and activists, illegal garment and shoe stalls operating in the basement of the mall place additional load on the electric supply of the building and could have led to an alleged short circuit, rumoured to be the cause of the fire.

While no one was hurt in the incident, experts are of the opinion that this was simply a lucky stroke. Had shoppers already begun to throng the basement market, they would have found it difficult to leave, as there is only one exit point there.

To make matters worse, there were a few gas cylinders being stored illegally in the basement, and the building did not even have any fire-fighting equipment. Several other irregularities were found at Kenilworth Mall on Linking Road, and the authorities are now set to take action against the culprits.

While the fire brigade is yet to confirm what caused the fire, locals claim it was a short circuit. They also allege this may have been caused by electrical overload due to the 40-odd illegal stalls in the basement market. The building houses outlets are owned by international food and garment brands, some of them in place for the past 10 years.

Bandra mall blaze: Locals risk life to bring out cylinders that are not flammable

However, in recent years, several illicit shops have also sprung up in the basement and parking areas. The BMC had even demolished these several times, but when the concerned builder went to court against the demolition, the matter went into cold storage.

“When I visited this place about two years ago, I saw a full-fledged market operating right below the footpath. There is a staircase that goes below to the huge market, largely selling readymade clothes. It was extremely fortunate that there was nobody in the building when the fire broke out on Tuesday.

Otherwise, with only one exit from the basement, all hell would have broken loose,” said Shyama Kulkarni, a civic activist. According to documents accessed by mid-day, the building had several temporary stalls made of bamboo and tarpaulin, which were removed by the civic body in May 2013.

But several semi-pucca stalls continued to operate in the basement. After repeated complaints, the civic body demolished these stalls in September 2013, after which the owner of the building moved court. The matter being sub-judice, the BMC has not taken any action since.

Watch video: Fire breaks out at shopping complex on Linking Road in Mumbai

“Yes, the matter is in court, but I have repeatedly seen that the BMC’s legal department does not make any representation in court and keeps asking for a later date. How will the issue ever be resolved?” asked Aftab Siddiqui. She added that by sending repeated notices informing of an impending demolition, the BMC gave the stall owners an opportunity to approach the court and stall the process.

However, documents accessed by mid-day prove that Kenilworth Mall is not a solitary case. Other shopping complexes in the area are in violation of some or the other building regulation, for which they have been sent notices by the BMC in the past.

Several of these matters are in court. In fact, after pursuing the matter for several years, Siddiqui had approached municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta, who directed deputy municipal commissioner Ram Dhas on May 21 to look into the matter.

A meeting to this effect was held on June 12, where he directed ward officials to submit a detailed case-wise compliance report within 3 weeks' time on all unauthorised constructions. He also asked for a detailed report on cases pending in court.

Official speak
Assistant commissioner of H-west ward, Vijay Kamble told this paper, “I can’t comment on this matter right now. We will have to examine it thoroughly.” Officials from the ward’s building and factory department also claimed ignorance in the matter.

Meanwhile, the fire brigade will now investigate the cause of the fire and also determine who is responsible for flouting fire regulations there. Chief fire officer P S Rahangdale said, “I am not aware if the concerned basement shops in Kenilworth Mall were illegal. We need time to investigate that.” He added, “We found 3-4 domestic gas cylinders in the basement, which is completely illegal.

An FIR is being filed against those at fault. Besides, we have asked the BMC to cut water and electric supply to the building until the loft is cleared of its illegal stock. Since the building didn’t have any fire-fighting equipment, we will also be prosecuting the concerned.”

Past instance
It was at this very mall that a shop had illegally been set up in the car lift, preventing other shop owners from accessing the basement parking spots they had paid Rs 5 lakh for. mid-day had reported on the issue on November 25, 2014, and the shop was demolished.

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