Karol Bagh hotel fire: Glaring violation of rules behind blaze that killed 17

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New Delhi | Updated: February 14, 2019 10:59:53 AM

The questions that arise are why such blatant violations are only being flagged after the tragedy, and why action was not taken earlier?

karol bagh hotel fire, karol bagh hotel incident, karol bagh hotel fire hpcl, karol bagh hotel accident, karol bagh hotel delhi, karol bagh hotel rooms, karol bagh hotel booking, karol bagh hotel jobDelhi PWD Minister Satyendar Jain on the terrace of Hotel Arpit Palace in Karol Bagh. A sprawling dining space there was gutted (Express)

The Delhi hotel fire tragedy on early Tuesday morning left 17 people dead. As the dust settles, a probe into the causes of the deadly fire at the 46-room hotel has begun to reveal the real culprits. Lack of regulations, as well as non-compliance to fire safety rules, led to the tragedy that left many families devasted beyond repair. An FIR by the Delhi Police listed two basement kitchens, terrace, lack of smoke alarms and fire exit signs in addition to obstruction on the way to the exit in the five-story building as the reasons behind the deaths.

The Delhi police registered a complaint by sub-inspector Shri Narayan on the blaze at Karol Bagh’s Hotel Arpit Palace, filing FIR against unnamed persons, reported the Indian Express. The police have arrested two people so far — 47-year-old hotel general manager Rajendra Kumar and assistant manager Vikas Kumar (21).

Glaring violations: Inaction on Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act

karol bagh hotel fire, karol bagh hotel incident, karol bagh hotel fire hpcl, karol bagh hotel accident, karol bagh hotel delhi, karol bagh hotel rooms, karol bagh hotel booking, karol bagh hotel jobThe family of Chennai’s Aravinth Sukumaran who lost his life in the fire. (Photo: Tashi Tobgyal)

Members of the Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee inspected Hotel Arpit Palace in Karol Bagh a day after the killer blaze killed 17 people. The committee found glaring violations like the height of the hotel being which was found to be above the permissible 15 metres and the top floor used by the hotel for commercial purposes.

‘There are extra floors constructed, the height is above 15 metres, and it appears the top floor was used commercially,” a monitoring committee member, told the Indian Express.

The questions that arise are why such blatant violations are only being flagged after the tragedy, and why action was not taken earlier?

A committee member said the monitoring committee is not allowed to act against such establishments due to the Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act; this act also applies to hotels that could be flouting the set norms.

The same committee was also behind the sealing drive held across Delhi in 2018. The Act came into effect in 2006, prohibits sealing drives against unauthorised shops, factories and hotels which had been built prior to that year.

What stops them and who is responsible?

The committee had sealed five hotels in Karol Bagh back in 2007, however, the hotels appealed to an administrative tribunal and the action was reversed. Hotel Arpit Palace, which was built in 1993, was an “unauthorised construction”, and was “booked” in 1993-1994. However, the hotel continued operations, North MCD Mayor Adesh Gupta said. He added that the hotel enjoyed immunity once the Act came into effect in 2006.

A senior official in the Urban Development ministry, however, said act was merely an excuse by the authorities to not act against violators.

“There are people dying due to their lapses. No rule is above the doctrine of common sense, and there should be action against unauthorised construction,” the official told the Indian Express.

Another Member of the monitoring committee adds that even if the Act was in the way of sealing the hotel, the civic body could have fined the hotel for height violations as well for the illegal commercial operations on its terrace. AAP councilors on Wednesday demanded the resignation of Mayor Gupta.

North body Standing committee member Vikas Goel rued, “This is the biggest tragedy in Delhi since Uphaar. The MCD knew this is an unauthorised construction but did not take action If they could not seal it due to special provisions, why did they allow the top floor to be used commercially? Someone must take moral responsibility.”

What happened that night?

As per the police, when the fire broke out, Kumar was on night duty at the hotel.

“There was no signage directing guests to the emergency exit… The security guard on night shift closed the exit gate at 2.30 am — which he did every night before opening it around 7 am,” an officer was quoted by Indian Express as saying.

Listing the main cause of the fire, police, in their FIR, said that the wooden circular staircase and wall upholstery caught fire very easily and that smoke travelled upwards via the lift shafts which are located next to the stairs.

“They (hotel) also (set up) an illegal fibre-made temporary kitchen on their terrace, apart from running an illegal kitchen in the basement,” states the FIR.

In the questioning by the police, Vikas Kumar revealed that the fire broke out in room 109 around 3 am that day. Kumar said that a hotel staffer alerted them, and as a result, he took supervisor Lal Chand to the room to extinguish the blaze. But the pillows and bedsheets had caught fire and the blaze only grew bigger.

“Inflammable material used in the rooftop restaurant, walls and partitions” intensified it, said one of the officers who questioned him.

However, forensic experts inspecting the spot are of the opinion that the fire broke out in room 107 as the whole room was gutted, a police officer said. Vikas also said that 11 staffers helped him and alerted the guests at the hotel.

“Chand was asking guests to get out of the rooms… he was trapped on the corridor of the fourth floor. Vikas panicked as they failed to douse the fire and called the fire department at 4.35 am,” the officer said.

47-year-old hotel general manager Rajendra Kumar and assistant manager Vikas Kumar (21)47-year-old hotel general manager Rajendra Kumar and assistant manager Vikas Kumar (21) have been sent to police custody.

The hotel’s general manager, Rajendra Kumar, told police that he was at his Uttam Nagar home when Vikas called him; Rajendra said that he rushed to the spot immediately. The police have also said that the hotel’s owner, Rakesh Goel, never visited the hotel and coordinated with them through the phone. The case was transferred to the Crime Branch at the directions of Delhi Police chief Amulya Patnaik. The Crime Branch has taken the two men into their custody.

“So far, we have found that all licences of the hotel were in the name of the owner’s elder brother, Sharbendu Goel, who is absconding. The manager told us Rakesh had gone to Doha for vacation,” said DCP (central) M S Randhawa.

District magistrate (central) Sandip J Jacques, conducting the inquiry into the incident, called on officials from the fire department, police, sub-divisional magistrate of Karol Bagh, civic department, power department, as well as the arrested accused for an inspection of the location on Thursday morning.

The two men have been sent to two-day police custody.

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