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Rajkot Game Zone Fire: Six Officials Suspended, Gujarat HC Pull up Rajkot Corporation, Gujarat Government

Rajkot Game Zone Fire: Six Officials Suspended, Gujarat HC Pull up Rajkot Corporation, Gujarat Government

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, May 27: The Gujarat government on Monday ordered the suspension of six officials, including two police inspectors and civic staff, with immediate effect for negligence in connection with the Rajkot gaming zone fire that claimed 33 lives, even as the Gujarat High Court came down heavily on the Rajkot municipal corporation and decried the state government machinery getting into action only after innocent lives are lost.

The opposition Congress also criticised the government taking action against only some “low-ranked” officials to protect the senior officials and top BJP leaders who were hobnobbing with the owners of the illegally-run gaming zone.

“In the past, several high-ranking officials, including the Rajkot Mayor, Collector and Municipal Commissioner, had visited this place and shared their photographs on social media too. In such a scenario, how can you expect that a junior officer would dare to take action against the game zone management?” the state Congress president Shaktisinh Gohil asked.

The officials suspended have been held responsible “for their gross negligence in allowing this game zone to operate without necessary approvals,” stated a government release. Those who have been suspended included Rajkot Municipal Corporation’s town planning department assistant engineer Jaideep Chaudhary, assistant town planner for RMC Gautam Joshi, Rajkot Roads and Buildings department’s deputy executive engineers M.R. Suma and Paras Kothiya, and police inspectors V.R. Patel and N.I. Rathod, as per orders passed by the respective departments.

The Gujarat High Court taking suo motu cognisance of the tragic incident pulled up the Rajkot Municipal Corporation and asked whether it had turned a blind eye to such a big structure coming up in its vicinity, after the RMC’s lawyer submitted that the TRP game zone had not asked for requisite permissions.

Hearing a PIL on the fire incident, the special Bench of Justices Biren Vaishnav and Devan Desai also observed that all the Rajkot municipal commissioners, from the time the TRP game zone was set up in 2021 till the time of this incident (on May 25) “should be held accountable for the tragedy that occurred,” and directed them to furnish separate affidavits.

A counsel pointed out that the unfortunate incident required immediate preventive and corrective measures, and the State government will have to come forward to hold a person accountable, and this calls for drastic steps. The court then said, “Who will take such drastic steps? Honestly speaking, we do not have faith in the State machinery now. Four years after orders of this court, directing them, after their assurance, this is the sixth incident that has happened. They only want lives to be lost and then trigger the machinery,” the court observed.

To the RMC counsel’s submission that the game zone had not applied to the authorities for requisite permissions, the court asked whether the civic body was blind to such a big structure having come up under its jurisdiction. “You were blind to that, that this big structure existed, you were not aware of it? What is the corporation’s explanation that the whole zone existed for the last two-and-a-half years? What fire safety did they apply for? When ticketing was done, were you aware of entertainment tax? So we take it that you are completely turning a blind eye to the whole issue?” the court said.

The HC also wanted to know when the corporation first recognised the existence of the game zone. “Till then you were completely ignorant of such a structure in the vicinity? Were you not aware of the orders of this court for fire safety (passed) in a PIL? What were you doing then? There are media reports that your municipal commissioner went there at the time of inauguration. We can’t take judicial notice of that fact? For 18 months, what did the corporation do? Sat over it?” the Bench asked.

The court also observed that all the municipal commissioners, right from the time the TRP game zone was set up in 2021 till the time of this incident “should be held accountable for the tragedy that occurred,” and directed them to furnish separate affidavits. “We refrain at this stage from passing any orders, though we would certainly desire to, to suggest that the officers in question be suspended for dereliction of duty and non-compliance of the direction of this court. We do not do so with the hope to give them a chance,” the Bench further said.

It directed the incumbent RMC commissioner and officers who held the municipal commissioner’s post from July 2021 till the date of the incident to file affidavits before the court, explaining various issues regarding certificates on the structural stability of such constructions, etc.

The HC also directed chief fire officers of the Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat and Rajkot municipal corporations to file affidavits on the fire safety measures (in areas of their jurisdiction), such as installation of fire hydrants, checking of fire safety equipment, whether licences (to operate) were obtained from the respective collectorates or mamlatdars.

“The game zone had received permissions from the roads and buildings department. It had also submitted a proof of fire safety equipment to obtain the fire NOC which was under process and not yet completed,” Rajkot Police Commissioner Raju Bhargava said. The government’s action of suspending five officials comes a day after Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel inspected the site where the fire erupted on Saturday and instructed the departments concerned to take strict and punitive action against those responsible for such a serious incident.

The police have arrested two persons and registered an FIR against six partners of the game zone and another accused on various charges, including culpable homicide not amounting to murder, officials earlier said.

The state Congress president shared some photos posted on the Facebook page of the TRP Game Zone. “In one of the photos taken in 2022, BJP’s office-bearers, including former mayor Pradip Dave, can be seen at TRP Arena. In another photograph, former BJP MLA Arvind Raiyani and some other local BJP leaders can be seen at the same place,” claimed Mr Gohil.

“There is no meaning in suspending junior-level officers who do not have any powers,” he said, demanding that senior civic and state officials and BJP office-bearers be named as accused in the FIR. He wondered how the officials failed to notice that such a large recreation complex was being run illegally, particularly when the Gujarat High Court had repeatedly asked the government to ensure compliance with fire safety norms at such places.

“During our visit to Rajkot on Sunday, we learnt that even if you have installed all the required equipment to deal with fire, a No Objection Certificate (NOC) won’t be issued unless you pay a bribe. And, even if you don’t have anything in place, you can obtain a fire NOC if you are ready to shell out some money,” Mr Gohil alleged.



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