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Mismanaged Demolition Drive Led to Fire in Bandra: Eyewitnesses

The authorities did not give the residents time to remove anything, like cylinders, that could trigger a blast.

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4 min read
Fire at Behrampada near Bandra Station. <i>(Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/ Pallavi Prasad)</i>

A cylinder burst caused a massive fire at Behrampada, adjacent to suburban Bandra station, in Mumbai on Thursday, 26 October. The blaze, which came under control later in the night, left a total of five persons injured. However, no other casualties were reported.

The Quint spoke to eyewitnesses at the spot, who said the police came to the area and gave them 48 hours to evacuate as part of a demolition drive the previous night. However, they turned up less than 15 hours later, the eyewitnesses alleged, adding that they forcefully bulldozed multi-storeyed buildings in the slum.

The authorities did not give them time to remove any belongings/things like cylinders or appliances that could trigger a blast. Survivors claimed 350 to 400 houses were burnt down.

Around 1,500 people have been left homeless.

It was a common understanding among all eyewitness that it was because of the rushed and callous nature of the police’s demolition drive that the cylinders exploded.
The BMC came with the police on 26 October morning and just began breaking our houses. We asked for time to evacuate but they said they won’t give us any, they’ll just demolish the buildings. I don’t know what they did with their bulldozer, but a fire started in the slum. 
Mohammad Arib, resident of Garib Nagar

“Even after the fire started growing, the police continued their demolition. We told them to call the fire brigade but they said they have only come here to demolish the slums and have no concern with the fire. They kept bulldozing more and more houses. Only when the fire increased a lot, they called the fire brigade and doused the fire.

An eye-witness video of the demolition drive that morning:

However, this is in contradiction to what the authorities said. The police said a cylinder blast did start the fire but it was in a separate incident, and not while officials were carrying out the demolition drive in the area.

Snapshot
  • A major fire broke out in Bombay’ Behrampada slums on Thursday, 26 October; no casualties have been reported so far
  • Demolition drive was underway by the ward authorities when the fire broke out
  • According to survivors, the fire erupted due to police brazenness
  • They claim that while they were given a 48-hour notice to evacuate their homes, the authorities turned less than 15 hours later
  • Eyewitnesses allege the authorities did not give them time to remove any belongings/things like cylinders and continued bulldozing the buildings
4:54 PM , 27 Oct
KEY EVENT

Eyewitnesses Blame Tragedy on Police Brazenness

According to eyewitnesses, the police gave people in the slum a notice of 48 hours to evacuate their homes the night before the fire broke out, but turned up to demolish their houses less than 15 hours later. They said the authorities did not give them time to remove any belongings/things like cylinders and continued bulldozing without turning off the electricity either.

This, they claim, triggered the blast.

A fire-fighter stands at the spot where the fire started.&nbsp;
A fire-fighter stands at the spot where the fire started. 
(Photo: The Quint/Pallavi Prasad)
Speaking to The Quint’s Pallavi Prasad, one of the eyewitnesses said that the police even lathi-charged women and children who tried to stop the demolition. They refuted the Fire Department’s claim that the first cylinder burst at 3.15 pm, saying that it actually happened between 1 pm and 2 pm.

According to them, the police continued the demolition even after the fire began.

2:29 PM , 27 Oct
KEY EVENT

Survivors Account Contradict Official Statement

Locals also allege that not only did the police continue their demolition drive even after the fire had started, they refused to call the fire brigade for more than an hour despite residents repeatedly telling them to do so. One survivor, Aijaz Khan, spoke to The Quint about requesting the police to call the fire brigade.

A mother of two, Qureshi Mehzabi, who lost her entire house in the fire, said is currently living across from the burnt remains of her home on the road, with not even a tarpaulin over her family’s head.

Iqbal Khan, a survivor of the tragedy, is certain that it was because of the police's deliberately violent demolition that the cylinder burst. He sat looking at the charred remains of his workshop machines worth Rs 8 lakh.

Survivors are rightfully angry. “No one has even come and spoken to us about what we can do, what we should do, or how they can help us,” said Mohammad Yusuf, ironically commenting on the ‘acche din’ that have arrived.

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2:02 PM , 27 Oct
KEY EVENT

Here is The Quint's Roundup from The Spot

  • A major fire broke out in Bombay’ Behrampada slums on Thursday.
  • Survivors say 300-440 houses were gutted.
  • The fire broke out on Thursday morning.
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9:26 AM , 27 Oct
KEY EVENT

Two Firefighters injured, No Other Casualties

The cooling process of the massive fire that was doused at Behrampada near Bandra station is now over. Two firefighters sustained injuries while dousing the fire. However, no other casualties were reported by the Fire Department.

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Published: 26 Oct 2017, 5:06 PM IST