Kamala mills fire: Activists fear for officials named in BMC chief's report

Updated: Jan 23, 2018, 11:46 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

Mumbai activists feel that those officials naming their superiors in statements given during inquiry in connection with the Kamala Mills fire could be pressured to retract them

The fire at Kamala Mills took place early on December 29, 2017
The fire at Kamala Mills took place early on December 29, 2017

After the release of the civic commissioner's report on the Kamala Mills fire, Mumbai activists are concerned about the safety of some of the officials whose names have been made public in it. They also fear that civic officials naming their superiors (see box 1) in statements given during inquiry, can be pressured to retract them, which might derail crucial evidence against the accused. Advocate Godfrey Pimenta of Watch Dog Foundation, has informed the Mumbai Police Commissioner and civic chief the apprehensions.

Also read - Mumbai: Kamala Mills owner Ramesh Govani arrested

'Fear for their lives'
Speaking to mid-day, Pimenta said, "We have gone through the contents of the report prepared by civic chief Ajoy Mehta. We observed that many officials of BMC, Fire Department, etc. have been named both at senior and junior levels in it. Certain junior officials have blamed their superiors in their statements, claiming they were asked to stop demolition drives a few months before the mishap. These statements will ultimately land the senior official in trouble in future.

"We apprehend that there is a possibility of the senior officials putting pressure on the person to retract the statement recorded. We also fear for their lives and therefore requested the concerned heads to take adequate safety precautions in the larger public interest," said Pimenta.

'Probe raises serious doubts'
Nitai Mehta of Praja Foundation also had similar views. "The manner in which the inquiry was conducted, and the way the officials' names have been revealed in the final report, only shows that the probe was done with vested interests, and raises serious doubts."

Another activist said, "The civic chief, firstly, should not have conducted the probe, and even if he did conduct it, he should have shared it with the police chief, so that they could have recorded the statements of key witnesses, who could have spoken against their superiors before a magistrate under section 163 of the Criminal Procedure Code, so that the statements cannot be retracted." Asked if the statement given in the civic chief's report can be used during the course of trial, Pimenta said the statements are collateral evidence and can be corroborated during the course of trial.

From the civic chief's report
Gist of the statement by Dinesh Yashwant Mahale, S.E.(B&F) G/south. Mahale worked as S.E. (B & F) from 01/10/2015 till the date of suspension i.e. 29/12/2017. He has stated that the premises were visited by him for inspection, so as to issue notices to initiate action against the illegal constructions u/Sec. 351 of MMC Act and u/Sec. 55 of M.R. & T.P. Act respectively. The said notices were served by his office on 31/05/2017 and 01/07/2017 and finally on 02/08/2017 the demolition was undertaken.

He stated that he had observed an unauthorised shed to cover an open terrace and other unauthorised works, and accordingly the notices were served. They demolished about 70-80% of the structure and thereafter it was stopped after telephonic orders from the Asst. Commissioner, G/South.

Asked whether action was initiated in the past at the fire site and to provide dates and details, he stated that the demolition was carried out at Mojo's Bistro and 1 Above on 2/08/2017. However, the past record of the said beat was not handed over from his predecessor and so he was not aware of the demolition action or other matters then.

Writ petition in City Kinara case filed
Unhappy with the probe in the City Kinara fire incident at Kurla in 2015, in which eight including seven students of Don Bosco Institute of Technology were killed, the students' parents have filed a writ petition in Bombay High Court. Advocate Pimenta said, "All the parents have filed a writ petition before a division bench through their lawyer Jayesh Mestry."

He said, "We have come across numerous discrepancies in the investigation and subsequent action taken by both local police and the civic department. For instance, no action was taken against the local LPG supplier, even after the fire report specifically stated action be taken against the LPG dealer who supplied the gas to the hotel, though the hotelier was not an authorised consumer."
The hotelier did not have the Fire Brigade's NOC but still the local BMC office issued his hotel a health, and a shop and establishment licence.

14
Number of people killed in the fire

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