Kamala Mills fire: BMC shielded 1 Above restaurant from RTI activist's query
When an activist got wind of the restaurant's illegal terrace area and asked for details of its licences, civic officials refused to answer, stating that the owner wouldn't allow it
Kamala Mills fire. Pic/Bipin Kokate
The BMC might claim that it has repeatedly taken action against rooftop restaurant 1 Above, but this is only true on paper. If anything, the civic body seems to be protecting the proprietors of the establishment, despite knowing that the restaurant was openly flouting norms.
The fire gutted 1 Above, which allegedly lacked required licences and violated fire safety norms. Pic/Sameer Markande
The civic body had known for at least seven months that the restaurant was running its terrace area without permission at Kamala Mills - this was enough time to shut down the illegal operation, but all the BMC did was to issue three notices to the owners and undertake a minor demolition drive. None of this proved to be a deterrent, as the owners continued to run the restaurant without licence.
This came to light as far back as April-May 2017, when Worli activist Santosh Gupta began asking questions about 1 Above. "I had heard that they were running an open-terrace restaurant without permission, so, in April, I filed an application under the Right To Information (RTI) Act, asking for details of the establishment's licences," Gupta told mid-day.
Violation of RTI Act
Gupta had asked for details on two issues: Whether the restaurant had a licence to operate on an open terrace, and whether it had the required health licence. But the BMC point-blank refused to answer the query about the health licence. Under the RTI Act, it is mandatory to share such information, but the BMC's excuse for its refusal was that the owners had objected to it.
In a reply dated May 6, Satish Badgire, medical officer of health of the G-south ward, stated that "owner of the restaurant has taken objection to disclose any information to anyone." However, Badgire did admit that the owners did not have permission for open-terrace operations. He stated: "No permission given for using open terrace for trade activity."
Gupta said, "This is a clear violation of the RTI Act. The officials from G-south were blatantly helping 1 Above and Mojo's Bistro. On record, they show that they have initiated action against the eateries, but it's all a farce. There was no stringent action, because of which these eateries continued to function smoothly."
He added, "It was just for show that the civic body issued a stop work notice in May against the owner of second floor of Trade House Building, where these eateries were operating. They had asked them to stop ongoing illegal constructions. But nothing came of the notice, and the construction work was completed." Meanwhile, two other activists have also come forward stating that the Kamala Mills compound houses several illegal joints running without proper safety measures.
Vivekanand Gupta, BJP's Mumbai secretary, echoed these allegations, and said, "So many pubs and restobars have opened in the city that are fire traps with illegal construction. The BMC should carry out inspections and fire department should conduct fire audits at these places."
The other side
When asked what action the BMC had taken, Prashant Sapkale, assistant municipal commissioner of the G-South ward, said, "We sent notices to these eateries for operating in an open space. We prosecuted them under the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning (MRTP) Act three times in the court for illegal construction". He continued, "On August 2, BMC staff demolished unauthorised structures at 1 Above and Mojo's Bistro. On August 22, we seized items that were fire hazards. The latest action was on September 22, when prosecuted 1 Above and Mojo's Bistro in court."
Hookah parlour was unlicensed
Thursday night's fire was said to have been sparked by a hookah, but there is no clarity on who was running a hookah parlour at Kamala Mills. Prashant Sapkale, assistant municipal commissioner of the G-South ward, said, "Regarding the hookah parlour, we can't say anything, as we did not give any permission for it."
'Upload permits online'
RTI activist Anil Galgali said, "Under Section 4 of the RTI Act, information related to public interest should be kept in the open. If information regarding licences is put up online, then the public will know which places are legal or illegal. But officials work hand-in-glove with owners to hide such information."
No. of months since RTI query
No. of times BMC issued notice to owners
Eateries at Kamala Mills to be audited
Kamala Mills Fire: Shocking scenes from the fire that killed many