NHRC notice over hotel fire incident in Karol Bagh [Detailed Notice]

The National Human Rights Commission has taken suo motu cognizance of media reports about one of the deadliest fire tragedies in the capital in recent years resulting in the death of 17 people were killed at a five-storey hotel in central Delhi’s Karol Bagh on Tuesday,12th February,2018. Many of them died in their sleep after an early morning blaze spread swiftly through AC ducts. Reportedly, the hotel owner had, apparently, carried out unauthorized construction/ modification in the building, after obtaining the clearance from the Fire Department.

The Commission has issued notices to the Chief Secretary, Government of NCT of Delhi, Commissioner of Police, Delhi and the Commissioner, North Delhi Municipal Corporation calling for a detailed report in the matter along with action taken against the errant officers/ officials along with relief and rehabilitation provided to the NOKs of the deceased and the injured persons.

The Commission also expects from the Chief Secretary, Government of NCT of Delhi to immediately form a committee of experts to look into the matter relating to violation of norms by the hotel owners/ shopkeepers and other individuals/ firms who are conducting commercial activities in the residential colonies and encouraging encroachment of public roads by recourse to illegal parking. The Committee should examine all the issues thoroughly and submit a report along with their suggestions to streamline these areas, making them safe and worth living for the citizens. The response is expected, within six weeks.

The Commission is of the opinion that it seems the authorities have not learned any lessons from the tragic incidents occurred in the recent past; no one appears to be bothered about the rules/ norms to be followed by the building owners and local residents. This painful incident could have been avoided if the hotel management and the authorities concerned would have acted sincerely. This is indeed a very serious case of violation of human rights.

The Commission has also observed that recently, several workers had died at clothes ironing workshop in Karol Bagh area of Delhi after a steam boiler caught fire and the victims got trapped due to cloth piles blocking the entrance. Suo-Motu cognizance of the tragic incident was taken by the Commission and a report was called for from the Commissioner of Police and the Chief Secretary, Government of NCT of Delhi of Delhi which is yet to be received.

The Commission has observed some common facts pertaining to both the incidents. In both the incidents, the victims could not come out of the premises due to blocked fire exit. Both the incidents have occurred in the Karol Bagh area which has become highly congested due to commercialization of buildings in the vicinity, in a reckless manner. These incidents raise several issues regarding working of the civic authorities in the National Capital as well as police authorities particularly, in the Karol Bagh and Paharganj areas where huge clusters of hotels have come up and they are often found flouting the prescribed rules in spite of procurement of fire safety clearance. Most of these hotels have installed wooden floorings and fiber glass ceilings in the buildings as emerges from the news report.

The Commission has also noticed that in the instant case, the fire tenders could not reach in time as there was no U-turn on the road for traffic and the vehicles had to drive all the way to Jhandewalan Chowk for a U-turn. The road was also blocked by vehicles parked on the road. In the earlier incident too, the fire tenders could not reach the congested Beadon Pura area in Karol Bagh due to narrow roads and traffic congestion.

Reportedly, it took almost four hours for the police and the firemen in mounting the tough rescue operation at the fateful hotel. The fire, as mentioned in the news report, was reported to the fire brigade around 4:35 AM and 26 fire tenders were immediately sent to the spot which brought the fire under control by 7:30 AM. Later, the cooling operation was launched at 8:00 AM which continued till noon after which the survivors were allowed to enter their rooms to collect their belongings. About 40 of the 45 rooms of the hotel were occupied by the guests, many of whom were from an extended family in Kerala who had come to attend a wedding in Ghaziabad.

According to the media reports, two senior HPCL officials have also died in the fire as six company officials who had come to attend the Petro-tech conference were accommodated in the hotel. The police personnel have reportedly seized the record pertaining to the details of the occupants of the hotel, to identify the deceased and the injured persons. Out of panic some of the guests jumped from the hotel windows to save their lives. One IRS officer who jumped out of a window died in the hospital due to fracture and head injuries.

It is also mentioned in the news reports that the Fire Department had given a Safety Certificate to the hotel on the 28th December 2017, which is valid for three years. The hotel owners have reportedly claimed that the “Arpit Palace Hotel” was a guest house, which as per rules, cannot have an operational kitchen for cooking but the firemen found a fiberglass structure on the rooftop which could be a Bar or Restaurant, the police is yet to investigate the matter. It is also stated further that the fire officials in the year 2014 had found a permanent structure on the roof of the building and orders for its demolition were issued. The demolition was mandatory to obtain safety clearance from the Fire Department. The hotel was also running a bar in the basement which has not been mentioned in the fire audit.

Reportedly, as the fire broke out, most of those who suffered burn injuries tried to make their way down the main staircase but unfortunately, the fire exit door was also locked. The “Water Hydrants” were present but not functional. The Mayor of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation has reportedly stated that electrical wiring was faulty and the fire exit seemed not have been used, for years.

[NHRC]

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