The North Delhi Municipal Corporation, in its internal inquiry into the fire at Hotel Arpit Palace in Karol Bagh that killed 17 persons, on Tuesday has put the blame on the Delhi Fire Service (DFS).
The report prepared by deputy commissioner (Keshavpuram zone) Ira Singhal has called the no objection certificate (NOC) provided by the fire department “questionable”.
“The fact that Arpit Palace had synthetic and highly inflammable panelling, narrow exits, blocked passages, windows that were tough to open and no fire safety training provided to staff, makes the NOC provided by the Delhi Fire Services questionable. The report submitted also has a few recommendations such as improving coordination between agencies as in this case, fire tenders found it difficult to reach the spot because of barricades on the road,” north corporation commissioner Varsha Joshi said.
The municipal corporations provide health trade licences to hotels and guest houses primarily on the basis of NOCs provided by the fire department. A major violation on the part of hotel owners, which was pointed out by the report, is that they were “running additional kitchens on the terrace without informing the corporation”.
However, the blame game over incident continued with Delhi fire chief GC Mishra questioning the corporation over its lapse in allowing a second unauthorised kitchen in the building.
“Also, if they are blaming the DFS, then the civic body should answer if their building by-laws prevent private use of combustible material. Isn’t it the civic body’s responsibility to conduct inspections as licences are renewed annually, while the fire NOC is given once every three years,” he said.
The corporation’s report, according to Joshi, also says the owner of hotel Arpit Palace lied under oath. “They had submitted an affidavit stating they were running a kitchen only on the ground floor and nowhere else. However, on inspection, after the fire incident, we found that there was a kitchen operational on the terrace as well,” she said.
Hotel Arpit Palace had also been booked five times for unauthorised constructions and 11 small demolitions were carried out here by the North Municipal Corporation of Delhi (NMCD) between 1993 and 1994, officials said on Friday.
These included a basement; illegal coverage of ground, first and second floor and additional alterations, building columns on third floor; shuttering and laying roof side by side on fourth and fifth floors, and reinforcement of RCC tank and lift room on sixth floor.
This was before the Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act came into force in 2007 providing immunity to all illegal/unauthorised constructions in the city built till then, including the hotel.
From their records, the additional public health officer of north corporation, Ashok Rawat, informed the standing committee on Friday, “The Lodging Boarding House/Guest House (46 rooms and 112 beds) was issued a license in the name of Mr. Sharad Indu Goyal on 27.10.2005 which is renewed every year. The last renewal was done on 25.05.2018 which was valid till 31.03.2019.”
“Licence for the restaurant on the ground floor was issued in the name of one Ramesh Kumar,” he said.
AAP councillor from Wazirpur, Vikas Goel, criticised the functioning of the corporation. “There are 38 hotels in the north corporation area of which only 24 have licences and 14 are running without licences. Of the 24 licence holding hotels, 15 have been booked for illegal constructions.”
Congress councillor Mukesh Goyal said, “Our public health inspectors are even more corrupt than the building department officers. They charge Rs 10,000 to provide licences to small shops and Rs 1 lakh to hotels without checking violations. Even when they are booked, no action is taken.” On the allegations,north corporation standing committee chairperson Veena Virmani said, “We will take action against whoever is responsible for this tragedy, whether our inspectors or senior officers. We will learn our lessons from this.”