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Rajkot Fire: Death Toll Rises to 33, Two Arrested

Rajkot Fire: Death Toll Rises to 33, Two Arrested

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, May 26: The death toll in the horrific fire tragedy in a gaming zone in Rajkot city in Gujarat rose to 33, including nine children, on Sunday as the state director general of police ordered the police officials all over the state to carry out inspection of all game zones in the state and close down those operating without the necessary fire safety permission.

The instructions to carry out the inspections was issued by the DGP to all the commissioners of police and superintendents of police who have been asked to carry out the operation in coordination with fire officers of the municipal corporations and municipalities.

The horrific incident in Rajkot has raised the question of safety of children, who thronged the gaming zones, since many of these run in temporary structures and often without safety precautions.

As per the FIR lodged in the Rajkot fire incident, the four-year-old sprawling amusement park TRP Gaming Zone was built in temporary structures that had tin roofs and two floors. It was a 50-metre wide and 60-metre long structure with the height of around two-three storey building using metal sheet fabrication to create a game zone.

The owners of the privately-run gaming zone did not have proper fire-fighting equipment and had not obtained the no-objection certificate (NOC) from the local fire department, thereby endangering the lives of people despite knowing that a blaze in such a structure could cause deaths and injuries, said the FIR.

The only entry-exit point in the gaming zone was six-to-seven feet high. On Saturday, there was a massive rush at the place due to a week-end special scheme of Rs 99 per entry. Furthermore, there was only one way to get out of the first floor. In addition, there was nearly 2,000 litres of diesel was stored at the TRP Game Zone for generators, while 1,000 to 1,500 litres of petrol was stored for go-kart racing. While the officials said the exact cause of the fire would be known after a thorough investigation, sources said the fire reportedly was started when some welding work was being carried out.

“The reason for the fire has yet to be ascertained. The attempts to douse the fire are underway. We are facing difficulty in the firefighting operation because the temporary structure has collapsed and also due to the wind velocity,” a fire department official said.

The state government has constituted a five-member Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe into the fire incident and submit a report within 72 hours. The team reached Rajkot on late Saturday and held a meeting with the local administration. Additional DGP of Police Subhash Trivedi, who heads the SIT, termed the incident “unfortunate and sad”. He said an inquiry would start immediately to find those responsible and ensure no such incident is repeated in the future.

An FIR has been lodged against six persons in this connection. “We have registered the FIR against six people under IPC sections 304, 308, 336, 338, 114. Out of this two people have been arrested. The crime branch team is working to arrest others. Our effort is to complete the investigation as soon as possible and file a charge sheet in the case,” Rajkot Police Commissioner Raju Bhargava on the TRP Gaming Zone fire tragedy case.

Yuvrajsinh Solanki, a partner in the Raceway Enterprise, which operated the TRP game zone, and the entertainment facility’s manager Nitin Jain have so far been arrested, Rajkot Deputy Commissioner of Police (crime) Parthrajsinh Gohil said. The FIR in the game zone fire tragedy states that the game zone operators never applied for the fire NOC, nor did they have any fire safety equipment in the play area.

The intensity of the fire was such that smoke was visible from several kilometres away. The bodies were charred beyond recognition, officials said. The DNA samples of the bodies and the victim’s relatives have been collected for identification.

According to sources, the gaming zone did not possess the necessary licences to operate, and there was no record of a no-objection certificate (NOC) for fire clearance from the Rajkot Municipal Corporation. This lack of regulatory compliance has come under sharp scrutiny following the disaster. Rajkot Mayor Nayna Pedhadiya, who arrived at the scene to oversee the rescue operations, confirmed the absence of a fire NOC.

“We will investigate how such a big game zone was functioning without a fire NOC and we are witnessing the consequences of it. No politics will be allowed over this issue,” Ms Pedhadiya asserted. The facility also had just one emergency exit and there was panic after the fire broke out. “People got trapped as a temporary structure at the facility collapsed near the entrance, making it difficult for the people to come out,” Rajkot fire officer Ilesh Kher told reporters.

The Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel and Home Minister Harsh Sanghavi visited the site on Sunday and took stock of the situation. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Mr Patel and inquired about the rescue efforts. The Chief Minister has announced a compensation of Rs 4 lakh each to the families of the victims and Rs 50,000 each to the injured.

The Gujarat High Court also took suo motu cognisance of the fire tragedy in Rajkot calling it a man-made disaster. “Prima facie, a man-made disaster has occurred where innocent lives of children have been lost and families are grieving the loss of lives in their respective families,” the special bench led by Justice Biren Vaishnav noted citing newspapers reports. He said, “Newspaper reports indicate that gaming zone in Rajkot appears to have taken advantage of loopholes in the Gujarat Comprehensive General Development Control Regulations (GDCR). GDCR paves the way for creating illegal recreational activities.”



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