New Delhi: A preliminary inquiry by the North Delhi Municipal Corporation has shown that the Mundka building where a devastating blaze killed at least 27 people on Friday did not have a legal building plan, was operating a CCTV assembling unit without a factory licence, and lacked basic safety measures. The fire department has also confirmed that the building did not have a safety clearance certificate.
A senior North MCD official from the factory licensing department said that the preliminary inquiry has found that the building was located in the Lal Dora extension area of the Mundka village where industrial activity is not allowed.
“The unit did not have a valid factory licence or a DPCC (Delhi Pollution Control Committee) consent to operate. An application may have been filed by a unit in this property in 2014-15 but no licence was issued. This property lies in a non-conforming area. The commercial stretch on Rohtak road is notified in parts from Peeragarhi to Nangloi, which is further away,” the official said.
The commercial building — consisting of at least one assembly unit, commercial establishments and residential units — is located on a small plot right at the border of Mundka industrial area and village periphery (firni). Since the area falls under lal dora extension, where industrial activity is not allowed, the civic body is primarily responsible for regulating operations.
A senior official from Narela zone, who is part of the inquiry team, said only trades, like grocery shops and salons, are allowed in lal dora extensions. “Such a large assembly of people in the unit indicates that large-scale factory work was being carried out. We have also not found any records of building plan of the plot so far,” official said.
The incident and glaring lapses have also raised questions about the operation of factory licensing department of the civic body.
In the past, the municipal corporations of Delhi have submitted multiple affidavits promising to close industrial units in non-conforming areas of the city to the Supreme Court but the tragedy in Mundka has also raised questions about the efficacy of such drives, especially considering that such a large unit was operating openly right next to the NH10.
According to officials, the North MCD issued orders on Friday to all six deputy commissioners to carry out surveys of such industrial units in their zones and take action against them in next 10 days.
Anil Lakra, the local area councillor from AAP and former leader of opposition in North MCD, said that action should be taken against guilty officials as well as owners as so many families have been completely destroyed by this lapse. “The property had no NOC from departments, safety provisions or even a building plan. Around three years ago, a liquor vend also used to operate on the ground floor of this property which was sealed but the owner then found a way to reopen and sublet the property. The owner also used to live on the top floor of the building and it has been used for various purposes, including a car showroom, medical laboratory office on a floor and CCTV camera unit,” he added.
Jogi Ram Jain, the standing committee chairman said that an inquiry report will be made public within three days. “The property has a complicated history and location. But it is clear that it did not have a factory licence or fire NOC. Whatever fault is found on the MCDs’ part, we will take action against the concerned officials,” he added.
North MCD commissioner Sanjay Goel said that the property in Mundka was 10-15 years old, adding that there is no information about a factory licence being issued to the unit. “We have instituted an inquiry by additional commissioner Narela zone which will submit a detailed report on aspects like status, land-use, licences and building norms of the property. It will also investigate if there is any lapse on the part of municipal officials and recommend action. Accountability will be fixed,” he said.
Noting that industrial activity is not allowed in lal dora areas like Mundka, AK Jain, former town planner and retired commissioner (planning), Delhi Development Authority, said there has been complete laxity in its enforcement. “In 2004, a notification was issued by the Delhi government to regularise 24 industrial clusters, including Mundka industrial area, but even in that case, the operators of factory units were expected to take all necessary approvals for safety norms, including fire NOC, building plan sanction etc. DDA had suggested to the Delhi government that the list all the factory units operating in such areas should be put in public domain so that even workers and locals can check if a unit is operating legally. However, the suggestion wasn’t accepted and the illegality continued,” Jain said.
A municipal official said that the action against industries in non-conforming areas has been taken several times but new units keep opening up. “The problem is so huge but if large-scale action is taken, then there are complaints of harassment by inspectors, loss of livelihood and humanitarian issues,” an official said.
No fire NOC issued
Delhi Fire Services (DFS) officials said the building did not have fire-fighting arrangements and had never applied for fire clearance inspection.
“The building only had one entry-exit door. The occupants of the building were trapped because the fire had started from the first floor and had engulfed the staircase that was the only exit route. The charred remains of two-three bodies were found on the second floor on Saturday. Most of the badly charred bodies were found on that floor only,” said DFS chief Atul Garg.
Push for redevelopment
Meanwhile, the local industrial association has now decided to push the demand for expediting the redevelopment of the industrial area to make it safer. Sunil Chadha, secretary general, Mundka Industrial Area Welfare society, said that a meeting has been called by the unit operators in Mundka industrial area to push for redevelopment in light of the fire accident.
Mundka industrial area consists of over 500 industries and godowns spread across 450 acres of land abutting the Mundka village. The industrial area primarily produces light manufacturing goods, machine parts and metal fabrication units. The outskirts of area used to be infamous for burning and segregation of plastic waste till a few years ago which were shifted by the intervention of Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority. “In any case, irrespective of the location, the fire safety and other mandatory certification are necessary for operating any factory like this irrespective of its location,” added Chadha.
There are 25 non-conforming indistrial cluster areas in Delhi where Delhi government has allowed operation of industries subject to some condition. The 25 industrial clusters, which have been notified in batches since 2005, operate in areas that are part of rural villages (non-conforming areas) such as Khyala, Peeragarhi, Mundka, Hastsal, Anand Parbat etc.
These clusters have been notified for redevelopment by the Delhi government as the areas have 70% or more industries operating in these areas. Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia too said that these clusters will be redeveloped in his budget for financial year 2022-23.