The Kamala Mills compound blaze that claimed 14 lives has shaken the conscience of society and is an eye-opener, the Bombay High Court said on Monday, and held that the tragedy was a result of the administration’s failure to ensure strict adherence to fire safety norms.
The court asked the city’s civic body to bring its house in order.
The HC made the observations while hearing a PIL filed by former Mumbai police commissioner Julio Ribeiro, seeking a judicial inquiry into the incident and also a direction to the government and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to carry out fire safety audit of all eateries and restaurants.
“The unfortunate incident has shaken our conscience. It is time the BMC keeps its house in order,” a division bench of Justices R M Borde and R G Ketkar said.
Fourteen people had died and over 30 others injured when a massive swept through ‘1 Above’ and ‘Mojo’s Bistro’ pubs in the Kamala Mills compound in central Mumbai on December 29.
BMC’s counsel Anil Sakhare told the court on Monday that the state government had directed the civic body chief, Ajoy Mehta, to submit a report on the incident.
The commissioner is expected to submit his report by the end of this week, he said.
The court directed the civic body to also submit a copy of the report to it on the next date of hearing on February 12.
The HC also directed the corporation to file a detailed affidavit, giving details of conditions that are to be followed before granting licence to commercial establishments to serve food and beverages.
The bench said it expects the corporation to perform its statutory obligations.
“The fire incident is a result of failure of the administration system to ensure strict adherence to regulations and conditions imposed on such eating hubs, bars, pubs and so on,” Justice Borde said.
“The fire incident has opened our eyes and led us to examine the issue. We would like to know from the BMC what conditions are laid down and are mandated to be fulfilled before granting licence for establishments serving food and beverages,” he said.
In this particular case (Kamala Mills fire), the fire department report says the pubs did not even have the licence, the court said.
“If the establishments are allowed to cook and serve food, then it should be ensured that they have proper infrastructure. Even the fire safety norms have to be strictly implemented,” Justice Borde said.
The court said it was time the civic body carried out a survey of such establishments after granting licences. After granting licence, the authorities have to keep re-examining to see if the conditions and norms are being followed, Justice Borde said.
The court said it was possible that some establishments, over a period of time, constructed temporary sheds which went beyond the sanctioned plan.
“All the points raised by this court will be covered in the report. If there is anything additional that would also be covered,” the judge ordered.
The court said the corporation should also keep a check on the roadside food stalls.
The court on Monday also permitted the Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association to intervene in the matter.
Ribeiro, in his Public Interest Litigation filed last week, claimed that the incident exposed gross negligence and omission of duties by civic body officials in complying with the fire safety norms.
The petition has sought a direction to the fire department to conduct a comprehensive fire safety audit of each and every eatery, restaurant, pub and bar which has been issued licence by the civic body.
“The court shall also set up a judicial commission for fixing up the accountability of public officers and private persons involved in the tragic incident,” the petition said.
It also sought constitution of a special investigation team to probe the incident.