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No emergency exit, fire extinguishers — how ‘illegal’ building in Delhi’s Mundka turned death trap

Massive fire broke out in 4-storey building near Mundka Metro Station in Delhi Friday, killing at least 27. ThePrint recorded the tales of horror narrated by survivors, eyewitnesses.

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New Delhi: The air is both dark and gloomy in Mundka Saturday, the area will never be able to forget what it witnessed last night, say locals.

The morning after a massive fire broke out in a building near the area’s Metro station Friday — killing at least 27 people — smoke still continued to rise from the four-storey building Saturday. Following the incident, the building — which also housed a manufacturing unit for CCTV cameras, Wifi routers and other electrical equipments  — had been cordoned off by the police.

While seven of the bodies have so far been identified, there’s a long list of those who are still missing.

The blackened facade of the building after the fire was extinguished | Photo: Bismee Taskin | ThePrint
The blackened facade of the building after the fire was extinguished | Photo: Bismee Taskin | ThePrint

The area remained choc-a-bloc with fire tenders, civil defence volunteers and Delhi Police personnel, and people discussing the tragedy. From outside the building, all one could see was charred debris.

Sources in the fire department told ThePrint that the fire appeared to have started after a short circuit happened in a generator operating on the first floor.

According to Delhi Fire Services director Atul Garg, the building didn’t have adequate ventilation, or adhered to fire safety protocol.

“The building didn’t have NOC (no objection certificate from the fire department) or clearance from MCD (municipal corporation). It seems the entire building was illegal. Most of the bodies were recovered from the second floor. We searched the third floor today. The rescue operation is over,” said Garg.

He added: “Every floor should have two exit points, but this building had only one on each floor. They didn’t have any fire extinguishers either.”

Questions on the building’s legalities were also raise by a source in the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, who claimed that the area was “unrecorgnised”, “a non-conforming zone” (land or structure which was legally established according to the applicable zoning and building laws of the time, but which does not meet current zoning and building regulations).

“Only a few areas here are sanctioned (under municipal laws). We are checking all documents. The land is not encroached, but the building is illegal, because it did not have a sanctioned building plan. All buildings require a sanctioned building plan,” the source explained.

According to Delhi Police two brothers — Varun Goel and Harish Goel, who had rented three floors of building and were owners of the manufacturing unit — have been arrested under sections 304 (causing death by negligence), 308 ( attempt to commit culpable homicide), 120B (concealing design to commit offence punishable) and 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The building is owned by a man named Manish Lakra, said DCP (outer) Sameer Sharma, who lived with his family on the top floor. “It is unclear if Lakra was in the building when the fire broke out. He is currently absconding,” Sharma added.


Also read: Plastic fumes, no access for fire tenders — how Delhi’s Anaj Mandi fire tragedy unfolded


‘Delay by fire brigade’

Eyewitnesses and survivors alleged that while the building didn’t have emergency exits or fire extinguishers, delay in reaching by the fire brigade also aggravated the situation.

According to locals who were in the building at the time of the fire, it started around 3.30 pm.

“We received a call at 4:30 pm. It took 30 fire tenders and 125 personnel to douse the fire. The fire was doused by 10 pm,” Garg said, adding that more than 50 people were rescued and 15 admitted to the hospital, who were all discharged on Saturday.

Referring to allegation of delay, Garg said, “we don’t deny this, the area is extremely congested. In fact, it is one of the most congested areas in Delhi, vehicles are stuck at the same spot for more than 10 minutes.”

Talking about the loss of lives, Sahil Prajapati, an employee in the manufacturing unit, said, “the casualty increased because the building was ill-equipped to handle the situation. Sparks flew from the generator and fire broke out. There was no time to inform anyone. People were trapped on the second floor, mostly. There was only one exit (on the first floor, where he was). I jumped off, that’s why I am safe.”

Another survivor, who received injuries, Ashu, agreed.

“There was no exit point. We tried to escape from the stairs, but it was filled with black smoke. One-hundred-and-fifty of us who worked in the production unit were stuck there. A meeting had been called by Varun Goel around 3 pm. Hardly 10 mins after the meeting, lights started blinking and the electricity went off. We had no idea, but the moment we opened the door, there was only black smoke. We didn’t get even 10 minutes to escape,” he said.

Ashu added: “Some of us tried breaking the glass, but it was so hard that my hand broke instead. We tried with a chair, but the chair too broke. Finally, we used a table and broke two glasses. We could breathe only after the first glass was broken. Some of the people tied ropes and the crane had reached, so they escaped”.

Recalling panic among those trapped, Ashu, said, “The moment the smoke hit my eyes, I  thought my death was near. I jumped from the floor. I fell on the glass. I was the last one to escape, Varun Goel was also with me.”

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)


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