Monday, June 17, 2024

High Court On Rajkot Fire Lapses

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Rajkot gaming zone incident: The fire on Saturday killed 28 people.

Gandhinagar:

Two days after a video gaming zone in Rajkot burst into flames and killed 28 people, including nine children, and left their bodies burnt beyond recognition, the city’s municipal body came under fire from the Gujarat High Court for failing to certify at least two such structures in the city.

The court was furious when told two gaming zones had been operating – for over 24 months each – without the required permits, including fire safety certificates, and said it could no longer “trust” the state government, which is controlled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

This was after the Rajkot municipal body said, in court, that “our approval was not taken…”

“This has been going on for two-and-a-half years (referring to the Rajkot gaming zone). Are we to assume you turned a blind eye? What do you and your followers do?” the court thundered.

The Rajkot gaming zone, it has emerged, was granted a license by local cops in November last year, which was renewed to December 31, 2024, Rajkot Police Commissioner Raju Bhargava said.

The hearing then went from bad to worse for the Rajkot municipal body after photographs showed officials at the gaming zone. “Who were these officers? Did they go there to play?” the court asked.

The court also ripped into the state government.

“Have you gone blind? Did you fall asleep? Now we do not trust the local system and the state,” the court raged when told fire safety certification hearings have been unresolved for four years.

Advocate Manisha Luv Kumar Shah, appearing for the state government, also acknowledged that two other gaming zones – in Ahmedabad – did not have permission to operate, and said a special team had been formed to investigate all such issues and file a report within 72 hours.

This includes mini-gaming zones inside malls, the court was told, for a total of 34 in the city, of which three do not have a no-objection certificate – a mandatory requirement – from the fire department.

The state said a gaming zone cannot open sans such a certificate, to which the High Court – appearing increasingly irritated – shot back, “Then this rule was not followed in Rajkot.”

In an attempt to reassure the court of action being taken, the state said three owners had been arrested and the process of taking the rest into custody is “ongoing”.

Meanwhile, the court also pointed to “many incidents” in the past and said, “…we have given many decisions and instructions in the past four years. Even after that six incidents took place in the state.”

Among the major fire-related incidents in Gujarat since 2023 were a blaze at a chemical factory in Surat in November that killed seven people and injured a dozen more.

A few days earlier a fire at a city multiplex destroyed property and injured two employees.

In July there was a fire at an Ahmedabad hospital that forced the evacuation of 125 patients. There was also a massive blaze in firecracker shops in an industrial area of the city in May

In March a fire at a hospital in Surat killed an infant.

“People are dying due to (state) machinery (not working)…” the irate court observed.

Rajkot Gaming Zone Fire

On Saturday a massive blaze was reported from the Rajkot gaming zone.

READ | Welding Sparks May Have Caused Fire At Gujarat Gaming Zone

CCTV footage – which NDTV has not verified independently – showed a fire starting during welding work; sparks fell on plastic that caught fire and could not be contained by panic-stricken workers.

The fire may have also been the result of an electrical short circuit, sources said.

READ | Nine Children Among 28 Dead In Fire At Gujarat Gaming Zone

However, it started, as the fire spread a temporary structure collapsed near the entrance, trapping a number of people. The facility had only one emergency exit.

There was some fire safety equipment but action taken was insufficient, cops have said.

READ | Bodies Burnt Beyond Recognition In Rajkot Fire, DNA Samples Taken

The blaze burnt so fiercely that many of the bodies recovered could not be identified, forcing authorities to rely on DNA testing to identify the dead.

Newly-Wed Couple Killed

Among those who died in the Rajkot game zone fire were a newly-wed couple – Akshay Dholaria and his wife Khyati, as well as his sister-in-law, Harita, to unwind after the wedding festivities.

READ | Newly-Wed Couple, Bride’s Sister Killed In Rajkot Gaming Zone Fire

Akshay, 24, who lived with his parents in Canada, came to Rajkot to marry Khyati, 20. They had a court marriage last Saturday – a week before the tragedy.

READ | “Jumped From 1st Floor”: Survivor Recounts Escape From Fire

Those killed included five of the Jadeja family. including children between 10 and 15 years old.

Officials Suspended

This morning six officials, including two police officers and three civic body officials – were suspended for “gross negligence”. A police case – with charges of culpable homicide – has been filed against the six partners who owned the gaming zone, and two people have been arrested, the cops said.

READ | FIR Against 6 Partners Of Rajkot Game Zone After Fire, 2 Arrested

One of the arrested is Yuvrajsinh Solanki, one of the partners, and the facility’s manager, Nitin Jain.

The state has formed a five-member team – to be led by Additional Director General of Police Subhash Trivedi – to investigate the incident, and Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel has announced compensation of Rs 4 lakh each to the families of those killed and Rs 50,000 each to the injured.

Prime Minister Modi said he was “extremely distressed” by the tragedy.

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