Surat fire: Tuition centre manager arrested, building owners absconding

Fire Department suspends two officers, including Deputy Chief, for ‘failing to act’ after last year’s fire .

Police have arrested the manager of the coaching centre where a fire killed 22 students and left over 30 others injured at a commercial complex in Sarthana area of Surat city on Friday.

Police have also booked the owners of Takshashila commercial complex — Harshul Vekarya and Jignesh Pagdal — along with Bhargav Bhutani, the manager of the coaching centre that was functioning from the rooftop of the four-storeyed building under IPC sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide) and 114 (abettor present when crime is committed).

Police said that while they have started the process of arresting the owners, one of them is currently outside the country.

As per the FIR, Vekarya and Pagdal had made illegal construction on rooftop of the four-storeyed commercial complex and had rented it out to Bhutani who ran a drawing class there.

“The builders have not taken care of exit points from the complex in case of a major fire incident, nor that have equipped the fourth floor with any kind of fire safety measures and equipment,” the FIR stated.

“Despite knowing that such lapses could lead to a major accident, they went ahead and illegally constructed the top floor and rented it for their own financial gains. This led to the death of people who either succumbed to burn injuries or died after they jumped off from the building,” it added.

Surat Police Commissioner Satish Sharma said that the probe is moving in two directions. “First is to find out the cause of fire and second is whether safety measures were followed by the commercial complex or not. We have at present registered case against three persons. Later, during investigations if more names comes up we will add them in the accused list,” Sharma told The Sunday Express.

Principal Secretary (Urban Development Department) Mukesh Puri, who reached Surat Friday night, inspected the building. He was accompanied by municipal officials and DGVCL officials. Puri, who has been asked by Chief Minister Vijay Rupani to probe the incident, later held a meeting with Municipal Commissioner M Thennarasan.

Meanwhile, Surat Municipal Commissioner M Thennarasan suspended Deputy Chief Fire Officer S K Acharya and Fire Officer Kirti Modh of the Kapodara fire station, in the wake of the fire at Takshashila complex.

The two officials have been suspended for not checking the classes at Takshashila complex in a crackdown that had been initiated after an earlier fire in November in which two persons died.

Thennarasan, who was on leave for the past few days cut short his leave when he heard of the fire. On Saturday afternoon, he called a meeting of SMC officials, to try and get to the bottom of the incident and to review what steps had been taken, how the fire had been put out, how much time was taken, what resources were used to douse the fire and how rescue operations were carried out.

After learning all the details, Thennarasan paid a visit to Takshashila Complex and took stock of the situation. Later, he called another meeting of municipal officials, and suspended S K Acharya and Kirti Modh.

“After primary investigations, we have taken a decision to suspend both the officials,” said Thennarasan. “During the last incident of fire in tuition classes in Agam Arcade, we directed the fire department officials to carry out a drive to check the tuition classes that had not been following fire safety norms. The fire department identified 192 such classes and other business establishments. Out of this, 188 establishments worked on the instructions given by the fire safety department to install fire safety equipment. The remaining did not comply and were sealed.”

Thennarasan said the SMC was holding the two officials responsible for leaving out the classes at Takshashila from this fire-safety drive. “We have suspended them and we have also initiated an inquiry against them,” he said.

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