The owner of the Mundka building that caught fire on Friday lived with his family on the top floor, and escaped by jumping to the terrace of the adjoining building, police told The Sunday Express.
Police said two brothers, Harish Goel and Varun Goel, had taken three floors of the building on rent for their company, which primarily manufactured, assembled and sold CCTVs and WiFi routers. The building had only one exit and police found that cartons were kept on the staircase, which hindered people from getting out when the blaze started on the first floor.
While the Goel brothers were arrested on Friday night, police are conducting raids to nab the building owner, Manish Lakra, and his wife.
Meanwhile, the Delhi Fire Services Chief, Atul Garg, said: “The building didn’t have a fire NOC (no objection certificate) and clearance from the MCD. It seems the entire building was illegal.”
“We have arrested the company owners, Harish Goel and Varun Goel, residents of Pitampura. The owner of the property, Manish Lakra, is absconding and we are conducting raids to nab him. We have registered an FIR under IPC Sections 304-A (causing death due to negligence), 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide), 120-B (criminal conspiracy) and 34 (criminal intimidation) at Mundka police station,” DCP (Outer) Sameer Sharma said.
Police said Lakra was running a real estate office from the ground floor and the Goel brothers took the first floor on rent from him in 2018. “In 2019, they took one more floor and in 2021, they took the third floor… They paid Rs 1.2 lakh as rent, via cash, to the owner, his wife and mother,” a senior police officer said.
According to an FIR based on a complaint by a police officer, police received a call around 4.45 pm on Friday. “There is a fire at a godown and 100-150 people are inside,” reads the FIR. It mentions that police rushed to the spot with “maximum staff” and found that people were trying to break windows to escape.
“During enquiry, we found that the owner of the building is Manish Lakra, who lives with his family on the top floor of the building… CCTVs, SIM routers and other parts are assembled and imported by the company, Cofe Impex Pvt Ltd. Its owners, Harish Goel (48) and Varun Goel (38), have 100 employees. Around 50 are women. They work from 10 am to 7 pm. Today, at 4 pm, there was a motivational programme held for all employees. They were on the second floor. When the fire broke out, some of them jumped from the front side of the building… but many were trapped after the fire spread. There was a lot of smoke inside the building and there was only one exit point,” says the FIR.
“An enquiry will be done to ascertain how only one entry point was made available for such a big building… the office space was rented for commercial purposes but there were no safety measures for the employees… they (the accused) have put lives in danger,” it says.
Village land in Delhi, on which this building was constructed, is referred to as Lal Dora area. Only residential buildings are allowed in such areas and commercial activities are by and large deemed non-conforming. Only small shops such as grocery stores, chemists, tailors, etc are allowed. However, commercial activity in these areas is rampant.
In January 2019, a liquor shop on the ground floor of the Mundka building was sealed by the North Delhi Municipal Corporation.
“Commercial activity being carried out in these (Lal Dora) areas is non-conforming. As for the building, it came up 15 years ago, when there was no compulsion to have a building plan cleared by the authorities. These rules changed in 2011. Whether or not the owner applied for a licence for the office space will soon be brought on record after an enquiry,” said North Delhi Municipal Corporation Commissioner Sanjay Goel.
He said he has sought a detailed report on the incident and the nature of the building and commercial activity.
The additional commissioner of the Narela zone of the corporation has been asked to prepare a report which clarifies whether the activities being carried out in the premises were permissible, whether the building had a fire NOC, if the businessmen had applied for factory or trade licences, and if there was a lapse on the part of a municipal officer. This report has to be submitted in 48 hours.
He has also asked zonal municipal officers to carry out a detailed survey of areas under their jurisdiction to check for any prohibited activities in non-conforming areas.
“This is not a problem with this building alone. A large part of Delhi has this problem. Mundka alone has three areas which are provisional industrial areas. An ecosystem has come up alongside these areas, especially in urban villages, where each house has some sort of commercial activity going on. This whole issue is a double-edged sword. If you let the inspectors loose on these businesses, we do not get any support from local councillors and there is no public acceptability. However, at the end of the day, it is the corporation’s job to check for any non-permissible activity, just like it is the fire department’s to check if commercial buildings are working without NOCs,” said a senior official on condition of anonymity.