Massive fire in Dharavi slum: Victims lose homes, businesses

Updated: Dec 19, 2016, 13:11 IST | Aparna Shukla

A massive fire in Dharavi's Premnagar slum that engulfed 150 shanties and godowns started with a short circuit in the meter room around 3.30 am. No one was injured, but there was a significant loss of possessions

The fire brigade responded to the call that only came well over an hour after the fire had already spread and engulfed the slums that houses residences and godowns, mostly of cloth traders
The fire brigade responded to the call that only came well over an hour after the fire had already spread and engulfed the slums that houses residences and godowns, mostly of cloth traders

A massive fire in Dharavi’s Premnagar slum that engulfed 150 shanties and godowns started with a short circuit in the meter room around 3.30 am. But it was only over an hour later — at 4.50 am — that the fire brigade received a call and rushed over with 8 fire engines, 10 water tankers and 1 ambulance.

While fortunately no one was injured, there was a significant loss of possessions and raw materials.

“We had the chindi business, wherein cloth is collected, torn and supplied to dealers. Everything is now gone, nothing apart from the clothes on my back survived,” said Sabya Khatun, whose house was next to ground zero.

Premnagar houses more than 800 shanties and consists of individuals dealing in everything from recycling of glass to paper, and most importantly, cloth. So most of the structures that burnt down were godowns on the ground floor, and their houses of the first floor. And while there has been speculation that foul play was afoot to get rid of the slums there, authorities have denied the allegation. “We reached the spot within 30 minutes. The probable cause seems to be a short circuit in the meter room,” said an official from the fire department.

Treatment money turned to ashes
It's all come to a standstill for Sabya Khatun, who supports her four children from her business. After saving up for her son’s medical treatment for months, she now will have to start again from scratch.

Sabya Khatun has four mouths to feed and after her youngest broke his leg a couple months ago, costly medical treatment to pay for
Sabya Khatun has four mouths to feed and after her youngest broke his leg a couple months ago, costly medical treatment to pay for

“After an accident, my youngest son’s leg broke. We were getting it treated for the last couple of months, but since the business was not doing well, it was a hand-to-mouth existence. Now, we don’t even have the business; every last equipment got burnt in the fire,” said Khatun.

'She was our last hope'
For Ruby Shrivastava, who was going to appear for her first year pathology exams in Jaipur on December 22, the timing couldn’t be worse. Her bags already packed, she was prepping hard the night the fire broke out.

Ruby Shrivastava holds her charred notes where her home was
Ruby Shrivastava holds her charred notes where her home was

It not only engulfed her notes, but also her train ticket, her admission card and the money saved up for the journey. “We don’t have a father. All our hopes were from her. We wanted her to be a doctor. Now without her notes and admission card, I don’t know what will happen,” said elder sister Kusum, before breaking down.

Savings for daughter’s wedding are gone
Yashoda Jaiswar (45), who hails from UP, things were tough enough. They didn’t have sufficient funds for their daughter’s wedding, but after sustained efforts, she had managed to save up R20,000 — now lost to the fire. “Business is anyway down because of demonetization.

Yashoda Jaiswar had just finalised a suitable boy for her daughter to get married to
Yashoda Jaiswar had just finalised a suitable boy for her daughter to get married to

Whatever I had, was saved in the house, and it’s gone now. We had finally found a suitable match; how will we hold the ceremony now?” moaned Yashoda, who had a lucky escape last morning. “The flames had blocked our lane entirely. There was no time for me to pick up even the IDs or important documents,” she added.

State to help?
Mani Balan, a BJP member, told mid-day, “We are meeting the CM to request him to provide financial help to the around 200 families that have suffered losses. We are going to provide blankets to them tonight, since they don’t have anything left.”

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