(MENAFN - Gulf Times)
Friends of a victim killed in the fire wait at a hospital in Mumbai.
Fire rages at the multi-storey building in Mumbai yesterday.
Fourteen people, including a young woman celebrating her birthday, died from breathing toxic fumes and at least 55 others were injured in a major fire that engulfed a pub and other establishments here early yesterday.
According to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) Disaster Control, the blaze was noticed around 12.30am at The Mojo Bistro and 1Above, both rooftop restaurants in The Kamla Trade House, a posh business-cum-media-cum-entertainment hub in Lower Parel area of south Mumbai.
The flames, initially suspected to be triggered by an electric short-circuit, quickly spread to an adjacent pub and a restaurant, trapping over 200 people on the premises who screamed and ran helter-skelter to escape the toxic fumes.
Among the victims was Khushboo Jayesh Bhansali who was celebrating her 29th birthday in the restaurant with her husband and their friends, her family said.
The tragedy cast an ominous shadow on the upcoming New Year 2018 celebrations in the maximum city renowned for its varied night life, late night parties and outings, and forced the BMC to review all safety and fire precautions for the December 31 parties planned in the city.
President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis have expressed grief over the incident and offered their condolences to the families of the victims.
Taking serious note of the incident, BMC Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta announced suspension of five officials, including assistant municipal commissioner Prashant Sapkale, for various lapses and ordered a probe which will be completed within 15 days.
Fadnavis, who visited the site in the afternoon, warned of very stringent action against the officials and others found guilty.
'If the officials and owners are found responsible for the loss of lives, they will be booked under IPC. Guilty won't be spared. I have ordered a safety audit of all such structures immediately, a grim Fadnavis said at the site.
Meanwhile, Mumbai mayor Vishwanath Mahadeshwar's indiscreet comments unleashed a controversy on social media when he said he 'could not be aware of everything happening in the city.
'I can't be aware of all that is happening in Mumbai. What do we have the ward officers for? A probe has been ordered, action will be taken, he said when asked about the lapses leading to the tragedy.
According to BMC, more than 12 fire tenders were rushed to fight the blaze which was finally brought under control and extinguished around 6.30am. It was only then that the full impact of the disaster came to light.
A majority of the victims were reported to have died on the spot, and the firemen rescued at least 10 people.
The injured were rushed to the KEM Hospital, Bhatia Hospital, and Airoli Burns Hospital, and 14 are still admitted, while the remaining 41 were treated and discharged or opted to go for private treatment.
The autopsies revealed that a majority of the deaths occurred due to asphyxiation and inhaling poisonous fumes from the burning materials, said KEM Hospital's dean Avinash Supe.
The entire pub and the surrounding complex was full of patrons, including many women and tourists, with an estimated 400-plus thronging the fashionable area to unwind. The blaze has raised serious questions about the safety norms implemented there.
Mumbai police have booked the owner of one of the pubs for negligence and culpable homicide not amounting to murder, and one of the restaurants is reportedly owned by a former top police official, according to sources.
There are many major corporates, TV-radio-print media offices, more than three dozen high-end restaurants, pubs, etc, which also suffered damage in the fire and their working was affected yesterday.
The Times Network with offices of all its major channels in the same complex was hit temporarily, but employees were evacuated safely.
After the disruption, TimesNow, TimesNow HD, ET Now and Mirror Now were operational by late morning, while Movies Now, Movies Now HD, MN+, MNX HD, Romedy Now, Romedy Now HD, and Zoom would be back on air soon, an official spokesperson said.
The blaze spells a massive setback to the government's plans to make nightlife attractive by permitting all shops/malls to function round-the-clock, to generate more employment and boost tourism in the state.
Barely nine days ago the state government had notified the relevant amendments to the laws, though it was not made applicable to bars, pubs and discotheques.
However, these were expected to come under the ambit of the new laws in due course, with the BMC initiating several measures in this direction.
Leader of opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, alleging corruption in the BMC, demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the tragedy, especially with the New Year Eve celebrations around the corner.
Blaming the BMC, Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam sought stringent action against those responsible for allowing the eateries to function despite rules being blatantly flouted.
Quoting a friend who witnessed the conflagration, Congress legislator Nitesh Rane claimed that a hookah parlour caused the blaze and not a short-circuit as speculated. He added that Mojo and another restaurant are only issued food licences, but not for serving hookahs to customers.
Yuva Sena president Aditya U Thackeray, one of the proponents of improving Mumbai nightlife, said implementation of fire safety norms was a must and BMC would come down hard on violators.
Bharatiya Janata Party MP Kirit Somaiya attacked the Shiv Sena-controlled BMC for lapses and demanded a complete fire audit of all buildings in the city.
In what appeared to be a blame-game, both The Mojo Bistro and 1Above issued separate statements saying they had implemented all fire and safety norms as per rules and did not store any gas cylinders on their premises.