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Kamla Mills Aftermath : When Sins Come Home To Roost

A sessions court on Friday, 16th February rejected the bail applications of all 11 arrested in connection with the Kamala Mills blaze on December 29th. The accused are Lisbon Lopes and Kevin Bawa, managers of 1Above, where many patrons lost their lives, Kripesh Sanghvi, Jigar Sanghvi and Abhijit Mankar, the owners of 1Above, Yug Pathak and Yug Tuli, the owners of Mojo;s Bistro, where the fire allegedly started, Ramesh Govani and Ravi Bhandari, the partners of Kamala Mills Compound, Utkarsh Pandey the owner of Nirvana Hookah, the company that had supplied Hookah to Mojo's Bistro, and Rajendra Patil, a station fire officer of the Mumbai Fire Brigade.

The devastating fire that consumed 14 lives in a high end pub in Mumbai’s Kamala Mills compound where a party was going on In the fag end of December last year, has gone on to become one of the most controversial and complicated legal labyrinths of our time.  The Bombay High Court, 16th February, not only rejected bail to the accused but also ordered setting up of a three-member committee, led by a retired high court judge, to probe further into the Kamala Mills fire incident that claimed 14 lives in December last year.

Wheels continue to turn within wheels and more skeletons keep tumbling out of the cupboard. All this obviously did not happen in one day, tragedies like Kamala mills are waiting to happen and a rapid series of fire tragedies went on to disturb Mumbai which continued on to the end of January 2018 with at least three more fire accidents happening in that space

A blocked exit and alleged illegal structures led to the patrons at 1Above being trapped and they died of suffocation, the BMC and police claimed. Add to that lack of other basics like strategic emergency lighting, signages and markers indicating fire extinguisher locations and exit routes and we see more the norm than the exception.

“The fire tragedy at the Kamala Mills compound in central Mumbai that claimed 14 lives could not have happened without the connivance of officials in the illegal activities going on there,” the Bombay High court said while rejecting bail. The order was passed by a division bench of justices R M Borde and R G Ketkar while hearing a public interest litigation filed by former Mumbai top cop Julio Ribeiro seeking a judicial inquiry into the fire incident.

There are clear pre construction and post construction rules in place regarding exigency and fire protection. Yet, if an upscale location like Kamala Mills has seen wanton disregard even for the bare necessities, what can be said of the more modest and relatively obscure areas?

Observing that such incidents should not repeat in the future, the high court said that setting up of a judicial committee was the domain of the state government. "However, the state government is reluctant to do so. Hence, considering the facts and circumstances of the case, we need to have an independent probe," the bench said. The court ordered that a three-member independent committee be set up under the chairmanship of a retired high court judge.

"The two other members shall be an architect from the high court panel and an officer or a bureaucrat, who is an expert in town planning laws or a retired secretary of the Urban Development Department," the court said.