Mumbai,(The Hindu): Twelve migrant labourers were charred to death after a fire broke out at a farsan (savouries) shop on Khairani Road, Saki Naka, in the early hours of Monday.
The fire brigade control room received a call at around 4.17 a.m., and three fire engines and four jumbo tankers reached Bhanu Farsan shop in the Makhariya Compound by 4.38 a.m. The blaze was brought under control within 10 minutes, but the cooling operations continued till 7.15 a.m.
Inquiries with residents revealed that workers were asleep in the shop. “The fire started on the ground floor and caught those sleeping on the loft above the office, off guard. They were trapped in the 60*30 feet structure due to the heat and smoke. The loft subsequently caved in,” said chief fire officer P.S. Rahangdale, Mumbai Fire Brigade.
Locals said that 10 workers were sleeping on the loft, which was made of wood, four on the ground behind the office, and six were near the door.
Prima facie, the police and fire officials said, a short circuit might have caused the fire followed by a blast of cylinders. There were two cylinders on the loft, which were recovered from the debris. Locals said that they were used by the workers to cook their food as the preparation of farsan was done on a wood stove.
The 12 labourers were taken to Rajawadi Hospital in Ghatkopar where they were declared brought dead. Officials with the disaster management unit of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) confirmed the deaths.
Ten of the victims have been identified as Wasim Mirza (22), Nayeem Mirza (19), Bhola Rajbhar (22), Rampal Kewat (22), Mahesh Tiwari (30), Shiv Prasad Yadav (45), Ramnaresh Gupta (20), Ghulam Khan (25), Jitendra Rajbhar (25), and Lamboo alias Shivcharan Prajapati (21). The two are yet to be identified. DNA samples of five victims have been preserved for being matched with their families to confirm their identities.
Eight of the 20 labourers, who worked at the shop, escaped, of whom Akhilesh Ramkishore Tiwari suffered injuries. He is under treatment at Rajawadi Hospital.
According to the police, they first prepared the street for the rescue operation. “The fire had spread rapidly and it was impossible to go in. The workers, who escaped, did not seem to be aware that there were more inside,” a police officer at the spot said.
The fire affected the electric wiring and installation, stocks, furniture and sheets. The police suspected that the presence of edible oil, wood, and other raw materials might have added fuel to the fire.
Locals said that the access to exit might have been blocked as most of the bodies were rescued from the bathroom in the rear of the workshop. Officials also said that only one exit might have contributed to the toll.
The ground floor covers an area of about 1,800 feet. Fire officials had to make a hole in the roof of the neighbouring workshop for hose pipes to douse fire in the rear portions. “The area was very congested, but we managed to contain it to the shop,” Mr. Rahangdale said.
Meanwhile, BMC officials called the business illegal. “Neither the owner of the property nor the owner of the business has applied for any of the requisite permits to conduct such a business,” said Ajit Kumar Ambi, assistant municipal commissioner, L Ward.
Ramesh Bhanushali, proprietor of Bhanu Farsan shop, told the police that he had all the requisite permissions, but the papers were destroyed in the blaze.
Late on Monday night, the Saki Naka police arrested Mr. Bhanushali, charging him with culpable homicide not amounting to murder and negligent conduct with respect to fire or combustible matter under the Indian Penal Code.
He had been running his business for the past two-and-a-half years. The compound has been around for over four decades, and locals said that there used to be a shoe workshop on the premises.
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