Mumbai: Fourteen persons, including a young woman celebrating her birthday, died from breathing toxic fumes and at least 55 others were injured in a major fire that engulfed a pub and other establishments here early on Friday, an official said.
According to the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) Disaster Control, the blaze was noticed around 12.30 a.m. from The Mojo Bistro and 1Above, both rooftop restaurants in The Kamla Trade House, a posh business-cum-entertainment hub in Lower Parel area of south Mumbai.
The flames, initially suspected to be triggered by an electric short-circuit, quickly spread to another adjacent pub and a restaurant, all housed in the Kamla Mills Compound, trapping over 200 people on the premises.
Among the victims was Khushboo Jayesh Bhansali who was celebrating her 29th birthday in the restaurant with her husband and their friends, her family said.
The tragedy cast an ominous shadow on the upcoming New Year 2018 celebrations in the maximum city renowned for its varied night life, late-night parties and outings.
President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress President Rahul Gandhi and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis have expressed grief over the incident and offered their condolences to the families of the victims.
Taking serious note of the incident, BMC Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta announced suspension of five officials, including Assistant Municipal Commissioner Prashant Sapkale, for various lapses and ordered a probe into the incident.
Fadnavis, who visited the site this afternoon, warned of very stringent action against the officials and others found guilty for the incident.
According to BMC, more than 12 fire tenders were rushed to fight the blaze which was finally brought under control and extinguished around 6.30 a.m. It was only then that the full impact of the disaster came to light.
While the majority of the victims were reported to have died on the spot, the firemen were able to rescue 10 people safely.
The injured were rushed to the KEM Hospital, Bhatia Hospital, and Airoli Burns Hospital. Two with minor injuries were taken to Sion Hospital, where they were treated and discharged. Another 14 are undergoing treatment in different government and private hospitals, and their condition is stable.
Autopsies of the victims have revealed that a majority of the casualties occurred due to asphyxiation and inhaling poisonous fumes from the burning materials, said KEM Hospital's Dean Avinash Supe.
The entire pub and the surrounding complex was full of patrons, including many women and tourists with an estimated 400-plus thronging the fashionable area to unwind.
Mumbai police have booked the owner of one of the pubs for negligence and culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
There are many major corporates, TV-radio-print media offices, more than three dozen high-end restaurants, pubs, etc, which also suffered damage in the fire and their working was affected on Friday.
The Times Network with offices of all its major channels in the same complex was hit temporarily and but employees were evacuated safely.
After the disruption, Times Now, Times Now HD, ET Now and Mirror Now were operational by late morning, while Movies Now, Movies Now HD, MN+, MNX HD, Romedy Now, Romedy Now HD, and Zoom would be back on air shortly, an official spokesperson said.
The blaze comes as a huge setback to the government's plans to make nightlife attractive by permitting all shops/malls to function round-the-clock, to generate more employment and boost tourism in the state.
Barely nine days ago the state government had notified the relevant amendments to the laws, though it was not made applicable to bars, pubs, discotheques and wine shops.
However, these were expected to come under the ambit of the new laws in due course, with the BMC initiating several measures in this direction.
Leader of Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, alleging corruption in the BMC, demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the tragedy, especially with the New Year Eve celebrations around the corner.
Blaming the BMC, Mumbai Congress President Sanjay Nirupam sought stringent action against those responsible for allowing the eateries to function despite rules being blatantly flouted.
Quoting a friend who witnessed the conflagration, Congress legislator Nitesh Rane claimed that a hookah parlour caused the blaze and not a short-circuit as speculated. He added that Mojo and another restaurant are only issued food licences, but not for serving hookahs to customers.
Yuva Sena President Aditya U. Thackeray, one of the proponents of improving Mumbai nightlife, said implementation of fire safety norms was a must and BMC would come down hard on violators.
Bharatiya Janata Party MP Kirit Somaiya attacked the Shiv Sena-controlled BMC for lapses on its part which led to the blaze and demanded a complete fire audit of all buildings in the city.
In separate statements, both The Mojo Bistro and 1Above said they had implemented all fire and safety norms as per rules and did not store any gas cylinders on their premises.