It was supposed to be one of the happiest days of Swati Lal’s life. After all, friends and relatives had gathered from all over to attend her wedding in Jharkhand’s Dhanbad on 31 January.
Little did she know that this day would turn into one of horror and grief, as a fire at Ashirwad Towers would kill 14 people from her family – including her mother Mala Devi.
On Tuesday, while Swati was at the wedding venue barely 500 metres away from her home in Ashirwad Towers, a fire broke out around 6.30 pm two storeys below her home. Upstairs, several family members were getting ready for the wedding.
“The fire was caused by an oil lamp and spread to other floors. The electricity supply got cut off and the lift got jammed. This is why people could not reach the fire safety cylinder in the building,” said Swati's father‘s friend Jai Prakash Gupta.
Apart from her mother, Swati lost her grandfather Vijay Lal, her eight-year-old nephew Aman, four-year-old relative Tanya, and other extended family members.
“The women who had come to attend the wedding were dressed in heavy saris and lehenga, as they attempted to escape from the staircase,” said a Ranchi-based journalist Rahul Guru, who covered the incident. At least 17 people were injured in the fire.
Under-equipped Fire Department
Swati’s relative Ashok Lal told The Quint, “After the incident, families of the groom and bride decided that the wedding should be completed anyway.” She did not know about the incident and the unfortunate deaths.
“She kept asking her relatives standing nearby about her mother but all she was told was that her mother was unwell, while the relatives kept her distracted in the marriage rituals,” Rahul Guru added.
As per Swati's relatives, it took around two hours to extinguish the fire.
Jai Prakash Gupta said that the owner of the house on the second floor – where the fire broke out – had gone out of the house.
“The gas cylinder at Pankaj Agarwal's house also exploded due to the fire, after which it spread to the rest of the floors,” said Jai Prakash.
As per fire department officials, the firefighters could only reach up to three floors of the 11-storey tower, which has around 70 flats.
Media reports claim that the fire department of Dhanbad district has only six fire engines. It does not have a hydraulic platform vehicle.
Dhanbad city alone has more than 600 apartments and shopping complexes. Apart from this, there are schools, hospitals, hotels, colleges and other government buildings.
This is not the first incident. On Saturday, 28 January, a total of six people, including a doctor couple from Dhanbad, died in a fire.
Jharkhand CM Announces Compensation for Family of Deceased
"The state government has directed to provide compensation amount of Rs four lakh to the family members of the deceased in Dhanbad's Ashirwad apartment and other accidents in the past. Instructions have also been given to the district administration to provide proper treatment and other facilities to the people injured in the accident," tweeted Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren.
Meanwhile, Jharkhand High Court has also taken cognisance of the incident. The matter will be heard on Thursday, 2 February.