Mumbai: The opposition parties on Saturday took serious umbrage at BrihanMumbai Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta’s shocking statement that he was under pressure “to go slow” on the probe into the pub fire that killed 14, here on December 29 last year.
Mumbai Congress President Sanjay Nirupam lashed out at Mehta and challenged him to “reveal” and expose the politician who pressured the civic body, ruled by the Shiv Sena.
“Mehta should not talk like a politician — Don’t make vague statements. Disclose the names of those who pressurised you to drag the probe,” Nirupam said.
“I reiterate that he is repsonsible for the incident and must be booked for it,” Nirupam told IANS.
He also asked the BMC chief to declare all the names of the owners of the 17-18 high-end pubs and bars functioning within the Kamala Mills Compoud complex which was the scene of the inferno last week that left another 55 injured.
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena spokesperson Sandeep Deshpande demanded that Mehta should be made to undergo “narco-test” to get to the truth in the matter.
“Who called up Mehta ‘to go slow’ on the action against illegal constructions in the Kamala Mills Compound – whether its from the ruling (Shiv Sena) or the Opposition ‘bhaiyyas’ (Congress),” Deshpande asked.
However, Mehta found support from Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray who said he has asked him “not to succumb to any pressures” and continue the drive against illegal constructions in the city.
“Its outrageous to announce an award (for the absconders)… They are not terrorists, the police department’s role is in question,” Thackeray added, indirectly hitting out at Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis who handles the home portfolio.
On the other hand, Mayor Vishwanath Mahadeshwar said the MFB’s report “would be studied in detail to ascertain whether it is accurate or not” before it could be discussed.
Mehta’s controversial statement was made late Friday after the Mumbai Fire Brigade (MFB) submitted its probe report into the pub blaze.
The MFB report has clearly confirmed that the blaze erupted in The Mojo’s Bistro and quickly spread to the adjacent 1Above and other premises, trapping an estimated 400-500 people present there that fateful night.
IANS had reported on December 29, quoting BMC officials, that the fire was first noticed in The Mojo’s Bistro.
BMC chief Mehta will submit the report to Fadnavis next week and it effectively corroborates the oft-made contentions of 1Above pub in the matter that the cause of fire was in The Mojo’s Bistro, which the latter has countered.
In a stinging indictment, the MFB said that even after the fire broke out, not a single staffer or security personnel bothered to raise an alarm or intimate the fire brigade.
The cause of the fire is stated as the illegal Hookahs served on the premises, no proper exit signs and availability of heavy stocks of liquor – highly inflammable – on the pub premises.
The burning coals of a Hookah came in contact with a curtain at The Mojo’s Bistro in the south-end corner, which quickly spread into the pub and then onto the adjoining 1Above pub.
The MFB said an illegal shed with thatched roof, both made of highly combustible materials, further spread the fire blocking emergency exits which even the security personnel were not aware of.
The lift was the only way out of the burning premises, a passage on the eastern side was blocked as it was used for storages and it was in an illegal toilet where the 14 persons who took refuge were killed, mostly by toxic fumes.
“It is clear that the fire originated in Mojo’s Bistro restaurant and further spread to 1Above,” the MFB said, referring to videos, eyewitness reports, tweets and newsclips of the incident.
The MFB investigators found remnants of Hookahs, charcoal, standpipes, pedestal fans, and other evidences in the south-east corner of The Mojo’s Bistro and also repeatedly hit out at the aunauthorised’ thatched roof in the 1Above.
Mehta said his report to the Chief Minister would be a comprehensive one comprising the administrative lapses, illegalities and actions taken against officials, the demolition drives, etc.
Late on Friday, the Mumbai Police announced a reward of Rs 100,000 to anyone providing information on the absconding owners of 1Above pub, who have reportedly gone underground since December 29.
The owner-partners, Kripesh M. Sanghavi, Jigar Sanghavi and Abhijeet Mankar who are “wanted” to face various charges, including the stringent IPC Sec. 304 pertaining to culpable homicide not amounting to murder, in the complaints registered by N. M. Joshi Marg Police Station.