Surat fire tragedy: Highlights of Govt. briefing on primary probe report

Gandhinagar: Mukesh Puri, IAS, Principal Secretary, Urban Development & Urban Housing Department, Govt of Gujarat today handed over a primary probe report to Chief Minister Vijay Rupani. Puri later addressed a press conference and shared the details:

Highlights of briefing:

– Primary report has been prepared after two-day visit. It has been submitted to Chief Minister. The Chief Minister called a meeting of APS to CM, CS, fire department experts and urban development department officials. During the meeting the details in report were discussed. I was also asked for long term study.

-22 are dead, 15 are undergoing treatment. 2 of them are in critical condition.

-There was spark in Air Conditioning system outdoor the first/second floor. Forensic department and DGVCL probe is going on in this regard. A vertical display panel for advertisement caught in fire due to sparks in AC unit. There were flex banners above that which worked as route and within minutes fire spread and impacted third and fourth floors. At the same time fire spread to meter room. Those inside a godown on the ground floor closed the door and survived. A five ft wide RCC staircase was used by those on lower floors. However a fourth floor with dome structure had a steel stair case, just 3/3.5 ft wide with wooden footsteps. It was put to approach the fourth floor.

-Creative classes and NATA architecture coaching class had two teachers and students present on fourth floor. A dome structure created on fourth floor was 7 ft high in middle portion.There was a tin shade, false ceiling and  small cubicles. The  height was so small on curved sides that instead of chairs, they had kept designer tyres to sit. So there were no chairs. We all are aware combustion nature of tyres as material.

– A survivor told that between 4 to 5 pm, a third floor teacher came and said they can’t go to particular side due to fire,  and they need to move the other side. Some rushed that side and jumped. Those who left inside were burnt by fire.

– Death toll is high because though the other staircase was there, it was blocked and its approach was closed completely. During the visit to the building this RCC staircase was found out and opened. There was a door there which was closed. 5 ft RCC steps were there but in a criminal act the staircase was closed. If that staircase was open, most of those who died could use it as exit route.

– When checked who gave approval to this building and whether the structure was legal, it was found that it was under SUDA till 2006. There was a residential society and in 2013, the  owners were four persons and they had  applied for and paid impact fee. In 2015 they received approval. While studying the records, it appears that approval was given to three-floor construction. However a lapse was also found that engineer had not paid visit to the place for physical inspection and check. The fourth floor was not mentioned in application while seeking approval. Surat Municipal Corporation had given approval to  more than 2 lakh applications under the Impact Fee law. It is yet not clear that whether the dome-structure was there at that time or not. It is not clear whether the declaration in impact-fee application was wrong of the dome structure was created after approval to impact fee application.

– The dome structure had no ventilation facility, it has  false ceiling which burnt speedily so as the  tyres kept for sitting instead of chairs.

-Two teachers were on duty during the incident. They were Bhargav Butani and Krishnaben. Krishnaben is dead while Bhargav Butani is arrested. Bhargav jumped from fourth floor and survived. Third teacher was Jatin Nagrani who came from third floor and jumped. He suffered head injury. He is on ventilator support in hospital. He is one of two survivors who are in critical condition.

– Harshal and Jignesh, two builders are arrested. A separate FIR has been filed by SMC against them for false declaration.

– 12 persons who are injured are hospitalized in PP Savani and Ayush hospitals. The state government is bearing cost of their treatment. The  relatives have no issue or complain regarding treatment and they are satisfied.

– As per primary report, the builders and those occupying/using the space are responsible for this tragedy. Those who blocked RCC steps and closed the door approaching it in permanent fashion are criminally responsible. Those officials who were assigned the survey task but didn’t visit the place in person before granting approval are also directly responsible.

– In the past, after an incident of fire, a survey drive for coaching classes was undertaken by SMC and 914 sensitive properties were checked. 449 properties were forced to comply and given NOC while 39 properties were sealed. During this drive, the fire officers were asked to conduct primary survey in their respective areas to check sensitive coaching classes. It is a serious lapse that this building wasn’t covered under that drive. Though there were two big flex banners and coaching classes functional, this building was not covered under that drive. This  was a lapse.

-Fire extinguishers were present in Surat coaching class. There were 6-7 fire extinguishers and some others were burnt. Most of them  burst due to high heat. Then occupants were not aware about how to use them. Fire system was installed. The building had BU permission but no drills was conducted regarding fire safety and no training was given for using fire extinguishers.

-Flex banners are highly combustive. Regulation norms will be made to limit its use, its distance from wall, its permitted size etc. In Surat case,  tube lights and bulbs inside the flex panel kept burning and worked to spread fire. A policy to regulate advertisement material will be declared.

– Overload has been a big problem for power distribution companies. Open transformers is other issue to look upon.

– Surat has number of fire stations as per norms. Takshashila building was in range of Kapodra fire station. A record in Kapodra fire station indicates that fire vehicle left for job at 4.00 pm approximately. Its registration number was also noted. We insisted to go through CCTV visuals. It was found that at 4.06 pm, fire vehicle was at Kapodra cross roads. There’s no truth that first fire tender arrived 20-25 minutes after call.Ultimately 24 fire vehicles had arrived. There are complains regarding lack of pressure. It was in 21-24 meter range. The building with dome structure was 13.5-14 meter high. Water could reach there, but the dome structure was closed from three sides. There was no passage to reach barring one side.

– As per standard design of fire tenders, a ladder can reach upto 10.5 meter height. It didn’t reach fourth floor. Now we have started giving permission for constructions upto 70 meter. Surat has two ladders – one is 55 meter high and the other is 70 meter high. But both were located away. The first one reached after 40-45 minutes when fire was already doused. It was of no use therefore.We are ascertaining the facts that when first message for need of hydraulic platform was aired.