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A Mumbai Fire Brigade (MFB) inspection carried out last October in Bhandup’s Dreams Mall, where a fire last week killed nine Covid-19 patients in Sunrise Hospital located on the third floor, had found that the building’s manual fire alarm and automatic smoke detector system were not functioning.
The MFB inspection report dated October 30, 2020 contained 23 observations that signalled the lack of fire safety norms in the building, including the absence of alternative electrical supply and rusted pipes in the firefighting system.
A massive fire broke out on the first floor of the mall late on March 25 night which spread to the third floor that houses the Covid-designated hospital. The fire took 40 hours to douse. Of the nine patients killed, most were senior citizens and six were on ventilators. MFB officials at the time confirmed that the building’s fire system, including sprinklers, and fire safety equipment such as fire alarms and smoke detectors, were not functioning.
The hospital was started as a Covid-designated hospital in October and was issued temporary permission to function inside the mall till March 31, 2021. The BMC has not extended its permission.
The MFB conducted an inspection in several city malls after a fire broke out in City Centre Mall, Tardeo, on October 22.
MFB’s October inspection report stated: “Large stock of various scrap materials/ waste materials / packing materials etc are found in the basement and staircase shall be removed with immediate effect and mall management shall not be allowed to keep any materials in the basement and staircase. Pipes used for firefighting systems are rusted at various places. These rusted pipes must be replaced immediately. Electrical shafts should be sealed at each floor level, to prevent spread of heat, smoke and fire at upper floors.”
Besides the malfunctioning fire alarm system and automatic smoke detection system, the 23 observations in the report also noted that escape route lighting was not provided on a separate electric circuit and the building did not have a an alternative source of electric supply.
The Housing Development and Infrastructure Ltd, which built Dreams Mall, lost the property to the National Company Law Tribunal four years ago. The tribunal appointed Rahul Sahashtrabuddhe as an administrator to run the mall in Bhandup after HDIL failed to pay property taxes, water and electricity charges. Confirming that he was in the know about the MFB report, Sahastrabuddhe said,
“I am running the mall with full responsibility and transparency. I have been filing reports with the court every 15 days [since 2018], and I am mentioning all the difficulties in the same. The Mumbai Fire Brigade inspection we are talking about, even there I was very clear that unless all the stakeholders do not comply with the orders of the court, I cannot do complete compliance. The Hon. NCLT has clearly mentioned in its order any stakeholder having any grievance related to functioning of the administrator may raise that before NCLT after making the payment.”
The MFB’s October inspection report suggested several measures to make the building fire safety norms-compliant.
It is as yet unclear whether the hospital management knew of the inspection report.
According to Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which has undertaken a fire audit of all Covid-19 hospitals and health centres in the wake of the incident, there were 78 patients admitted in the hospital at the time of the fire, of whom two were already dead after failing to recover from Covid-related complications and nine died due to the fire.
Currently, two departments of the BMC are conducting an enquiry into the fire: the Disaster Management Cell, which is expected to file its report to the municipal commissioner within the next 10 days, and the building and factory department which is looking into the structural violations of the mall.
“The hospital had occupation certificate and also the fire compliance to operate, but we are told there were fire violations inside the mall. However, that is under fire department’s purview, but I have asked my staff to investigate whether there were any other structural violations inside the mall,” assistant municipal commissioner V Acharekar has said last week.
The hospital issued a statement on March 27: “Sunrise hospital had filed a complaint against the administrator and appealed to the police to take action against him for not maintaining the mall as per the court orders. The mall was under NCLT and the court appointed administrator was ordered to look after the operations. All the operations at the mall and the licenses of the mall are the responsibility of the court-appointed administrator. All the hospital permissions and licenses were taken and are in order and have nothing to do with the mall compliances.”
The Bhandup police booked several people in connection with the fire including directors of the mall, Rakesh Wadhwan, Nikita Amitsingh Trehan, Sarang Wadhwan and Deepak Shirke, and directors of Privilege Healthcare Services Private Limited which owns the hospital, Amitsingh Trehan, Nikita Amitsingh Trehan and Sweetie Jain.
The hospital management also called for an investigation to determine how the fire spread.
“The fire was on the first floor of Dreams Mall, Bhandup, and not in the hospital. The smoke had reached up to Sunrise Hospital located at the top floor. All fire alarms beeped and hence all patients were safely evacuated due to the smoke to the fire refuge area .There were two dead bodies (due to Covid) which were also evacuated. There was no casualty due to fire. All patients were promptly shifted to Jumbo Covid centre (and some to other private hospitals). The patients were shifted alive, but there were few patients on ventilator and extremely critical. We believe that the casualties have not occurred due to fire, but either in transit or at other hospitals,” the hospital claimed.
It further said that the hospital was started in “exceptional circumstances of Covid last year” and was “functioning with all due compliances”.