Kalbadevi fire: Cash, valuables lie scattered on open ground
After a fire caused the four-storey Gokul Niwas in Kalbadevi to crumble, debris from the spot has been shifted to a civic ground in Mumbadevi, guarded only by three cops from L T Marg police station
Even as residents and shop owners of Gokul Niwas in Kalbadevi try to recover from the shock of losing their homes and shops in the blaze that destroyed their building, their valuables now lie in an open ground, manned by just three policemen.
The four-storey structure came tumbling down late in the night after a massive fire broke out on Saturday evening. After the flames were finally doused, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) lined up around 15 trucks at the spot, at around 12.30 am, to move the debris away.
Three policemen from L T Marg police station are guarding the debris, which contains cash, jewellery and other valuables. Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
As the trucks started gathering the debris, fire officials let go seven truckloads without checking the content. Only from the eighth truck onwards did they start checking the debris as it was being collected by a forklift.
Valuables in the open
BMC authorities on the spot said they were going to continue debris collection and move it to the Deonar dump yard. They had no answer as to why it was not taken there directly. Instead, the trucks took it to a BMC-owned open ground near Mumbadevi temple; the rubble, containing gold jewellery, cash and other valuables worth lakhs, is now lying under the open skies, and its safety questionable.
Seven truckloads of debris had been removed from the spot without inspecting its contents. Firemen began checking the debris only from the eighth truck onwards.
The civic plot has a small compound wall with no barbed wires, and is situated in a busy lane. There are some shanties nearby and curious onlookers do come to see what is going on. The L T Marg police station has deployed three policemen — two constables and a police sub-inspector — to guard the debris and ensure none of the locals went on a scavenging spree.
When mid-day tried to enter the premises at around 2.30 am, the PSI asked the two constables to escort the reporter and the photographer out of the premises. We saw some people flashing their torches in the remains and they were seemingly looking for something. When asked why they were present there when no civilian was allowed to enter, the PSI said, “They are BMC workers doing their job. Please vacate the ground; we don’t have permission to let anybody enter.”
According to the BMC authorities on the spot, the debris was supposed to be taken to Deonar dumping ground. Instead, it was unloaded at an open ground near Mumbadevi temple.
The reporter and photographer tried checking the venue from the terraces of adjacent buildings and, surprisingly, we found the policemen were making rounds of the debris and checking the content. None of the employees were found taking anything from the ground.
By dawn, civic clean-up marshals were waiting outside the ground. When asked, one of them said over 15 of them had been doing “night duty” on the instructions of the contractor. At 6.45 am, a lot of marshals were seen inside the ground, which, as told by the policemen, was forbidden.
On Sunday morning, debris collection was on at a sluggish pace since much of the debris was still hot. A JCB machine and other equipment were pressed into service and the remains were being collected in BMC vans. More than 15 such vans had reportedly left the site.
The policemen on the spot told mid-day that a lot of people “who owned shops in the building had enquired about the debris since morning, claiming to have belongings there. But they were not allowed inside.” The on-duty policemen told mid-day that the debris will stay on the spot at least for now.
When the fire spread on Saturday, the occupants (including residents and shopkeepers) had rushed out of the building before the fire brigade had arrived. “The short circuit happened before my eyes.
The idol of Goddess Amba, which, the occupants believe, provided protection to the building. Pic/Bipin Kokate
I was praying at the temple on the ground floor. We then immediately moved the idol of Goddess Amba away from the spot, sensing that a fire was going to break out. The building fell within hours after that,” said Nilesh Mittal, who owns a shop on the ground floor. Many occupants of the building, including Mittal, believe that once the idol was removed, the building did not have the goddess’ protection any more and, thus, collapsed.