Mumbai: A fire broke out in a four-storey residential building located behind the iconic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel here on Sunday, leaving one person dead and injuring two, including a fireman, officials said.
Fourteen people, including some senior citizens, were rescued from the Churchill Chamber building where the blaze erupted shortly after noon, they said.
"The fire brigade got a call around 12.17 pm about the blaze in the ground plus four-storey building, located on the Merry Weather Road, following which fire fighters rushed to the spot and managed to rescue 14 people with the help of ladders," a fire official said, adding that it was a level-2 fire.
As smoke engulfed the entire premises, some of those rescued complained of breathing problems and were treated in a state-run hospital, he said.
The deceased has been identified as 54-year-old Shyam Aiyar, a resident of the building, police said.
Another resident, Yusuf Poonamwala (50) was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of a private hospital while the injured fireman, Burmal Patil (29), was discharged after treatment, a police official said.
The cause of the fire was yet to be ascertained, he said.
The flames were put out completely around 4 pm with the help of four fire engines and as many water tankers, the fire official said, adding that the rescue operation is over now.
This is yet another incident that points to the many infrastructure flaws of the Mumbai that is seeking to build on new territories paying little or no heed to the perilous state the rest of the city is in. Last week, a building collapsed in south Mumbai's congested Dongri locality killing many.
Mumbai needs enforcement of building safety norms: Experts
The accident in the congested Dongri area and the Merry Weather fire has once again put the focus on Mumbai's stressed infrastructure with experts and realtors calling for strict enforcement of safety norms and regular audits to avoid such tragedies in the future. Every year, the financial capital sees instances of building collapse, foot overbridge accidents and other life-threatening but preventable incidents. The situation gets aggravated during the monsoon.
Dongri accident was the latest addition in the list of such tragedies in the Mumbai metropolitan area which is replete with tales of sheer negligence and apathy by authorities tasked with overseeing development and maintenance of buildings and infrastructure assets.
Earlier this month, the city witnessed instances of wall collapse caused by the worst monsoon rains in a single day in 14 years, killing over 20 people.
"People continue to die, and India has so far failed to enforce safety norms for highrises in the country strictly," said Ramesh Nair, CEO and Country Head, JLL India, a global real estate services firm.
"As opposed to the scenario witnessed in more developed countries, India lags on implementing tighter norms for the structural and fire safety for all kinds of buildings," said Nair. He said a large section of the real estate development fraternity is now aware of these guidelines and follows necessary construction norms relating to natural disasters such as earthquake, water, fire and floods to make safer structures. "However, there remains a section of unorganized builders who continue to flout structural safety norms. Law should strictly deal with them," Nair maintained.
At least six people were killed and 32 injured when a major portion of a foot overbridge near the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT) railway station in south Mumbai collapsed in March.
In July last year, the pedestrian section of the Gokhale bridge in suburban Andheri gave way, killing two persons and injuring three others.
The basic requirement is to decongest existing overcrowded urban spaces by creating new cities in periphery areas with mass rapid transport linkages to the CBDs (central business districts), which will provide breathing space for overburdened and overworked infrastructure.
"We need to promote the idea of planned suburbs on the periphery of Mumbai to decongest existing infrastructure and ensure ease of mobility," Hiranandani added.
After every such a tragic incident, it is often seen that government agencies like the BMC, Mhada and Railways engage in a blame game and pass the buck.
Every year before the monsoon, Mhada (Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority) and BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) released a list of dilapidated and dangerous buildings and issue eviction notices to occupants. "But while doing so, they do not take into consideration where will the tenants go. We cannot continue living with this and passing the blame."
"With RERA (Real Estate Regulatory Authority) in place, we have asked the authorities from Mhada and the government to sit together and create a regulatory framework for redeveloping such structures in a time-bound manner," Deshpande said.
Ramesh Prabhu, founder-chairman, Maharashtra Societies Welfare Association, said the current infrastructure in Mumbai is not capable enough to hold the burgeoning population. "On one hand we cannot stop the influx, and on the other hand, we are unable to provide adequate infrastructure and housing. This has resulted in mushrooming of slums," he said.
At the same time, there is no proper assessment or structural audits of the existing establishments, Prabhu said. It is necessary for the government to take proactive steps in this regard or else such incidents will continue to recur with fatal consequences, he warned.
Prabhu said the state government, in a July 4 order, has asked the authorities to give priority to redevelopment to buildings which are declared dangerous for settlement. "We now need to see how this is implemented," he said.