1 Yr Since Kamala Mills Fire, Still No Compensation for Survivors
One year since a deadly blaze at Kamala Mills killed 14 people, survivors still fight for compensation from the Govt.
One year since a deadly blaze at Kamala Mills killed 14 people, survivors still fight for compensation from the Govt.(Photo: The Quint/Kamran Akhter)

1 Yr Since Kamala Mills Fire, Still No Compensation for Survivors

It’s been a year since 29-year-old Pratik Thakur and his family narrowly escaped death. Thakur and six other members of his family were dining at the 1Above restaurant in Kamala Mills when a huge fire broke out at the adjacent Mojo’s Bistro. His decision to make a dash for the exit immediately saved him from meeting the horrific blaze that killed 14 people that night and left many injured. But Thakur did not emerge completely unscathed.

“I suffered from deep burns on my hands. Other members of my family too suffered from injuries and lost their valuables. One of my sisters-in-law had to under go skin grafting and corrective plastic surgery due to their injuries.”
Pratik Thakur, Survivor 
Kamala Mill fire tragedy victims’ friends wait outside a hospital.
Kamala Mill fire tragedy victims’ friends wait outside a hospital.
(Photo: Reuters)

Thakur spent the next two months undergoing treatment for burns at different hospitals – first Bhatia Hospital and then Breach Candy. While the initial phase of the treatment was covered under medical insurance, he had no choice but to shell out the rest from his own pocket.

“If you calculate the medical expenses of all seven people in the family, it was about Rs 40-50 lakhs. I used to go to the hospital to get my dressing done and each sitting cost me about Rs 8,000-9,000. I had to go for this thrice a week. So, every week I ended up spending about Rs 30,000. Another sister-in-law of mine ended up spending Rs 3-4 lakh initially and then had to further undergo skin grafting and corrective plastic surgery. That was again Rs 3-4 lakh.” 
Pratik Thakur, Survivor 

“No one bothered about us. There’s no justice in India,” adds Pratik Thakur, who says he remembers vivid details from that night but cannot bring himself to talk about it.

View of the gutted rooftop at Kamala Mills compound.
View of the gutted rooftop at Kamala Mills compound.
(Photo: ANI)

Almost a year since Thakur and his family filed a petition in the Bombay High Court seeking compensation from the Maharashtra government to cover their medical expenses, Thakur is now giving up hope. “I have fought with them for about six months. I used to go to court but there was nothing happening. In fact, I ended up spending about Rs 3-4 lakh for legal expenses,” he said.

“Their compensation plea has not even been heard so far. We are still pursuing the case. The BMC has not said anything on this so far – not for the injured and neither for those who lost their lives. The injured persons should get compensation as early as possible, the court should ask either the government or the culprits to pay up at the earliest.”
Advocate Prakash Wagh, representing the petitioners 

What’s the Status of the Case?

Out of the 12 people who have been charge-sheeted in connection with the fire at Kamala Mills, only two still remain in jail – Abhijeet Mankar, the co-owner of 1Above, and Sayyed Ali, who was in charge of the hookah counter at Mojo’s Bistro the night of the fire. The rest, however, have all received bail.

Ravi Bhandari and Ramesh Govani

Booked in a criminal case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, Kamala Mills owners Ravi Bhandari and Ramesh Govani were granted bail by the Bombay High Court in May 2018. The two were granted bail for a surety of Rs 50,000 each and were directed to surrender their passports, and to not travel abroad without the trial court’s permission. They were also directed to report to NM Joshi marg police station once a month.

Bhandari and Govani’s counsel had argued in court that their case was totally different from that of the restaurant owners. They said that they couldn’t be prosecuted for culpable homicide not amounting to murder merely because they didn’t inform the BMC about alleged irregularities. 

Bail for Owners of 1Above & Mojo’s Bistro

After being lodged in jail for almost a year, the Supreme Court granted bail to owners of 1Above – Kripesh Sanghvi and Jigar Sanghvi – and the co-owner of Mojo’s Bistro – Yug Pathak in December 2018.

Barely a month after the Bombay High Court rejected their bail plea, the SC granted bail to the trio on technical grounds. The apex court criticised the HC’s practice of delaying providing bail order copies to accused.

(Left to right) Kripesh Sanghvi, Jigar Sanghvi, Yug Tuli, Abhijeet Mankar and Yug Pathak. Sanghvi brothers & Mankar owned 1Above and Tuli and Pathal owned Mojo’s Bistro. 
(Left to right) Kripesh Sanghvi, Jigar Sanghvi, Yug Tuli, Abhijeet Mankar and Yug Pathak. Sanghvi brothers & Mankar owned 1Above and Tuli and Pathal owned Mojo’s Bistro. 
(Photo Courtesy: The Quint/Harsh Sahani)   
“Though one-and-a-half months have passed, the copy of the order is not available. It is a matter of great concern that the court passes the order in open court rejecting the bail application(s) but then the order does not see the light of the day. In such matters pertaining to the liberty of a person, we are of the opinion that copy of the order(s) should be made available immediately so that the aggrieved party is able to seek his/her redress. We, therefore, denounce this practice of the High Court, which we have repeatedly, in strongest words.” 
Supreme Court observation 

In the first week of December, co-owner of Mojo’s Bistro Yug Tuli had also received interim bail till his bail application is decided by the Bombay High Court.

How Have Fire Compliance Norms Changed Since Kamala Mills Fire?

Soon after the fire broke out at Kamala Mills, the Mumbai fire brigade launched an inspection into residential buildings and hotels for fire compliance. Between January and November 2018, the fire brigade issued notices to 1,395 out of a total of 3,946 hotels inspected. However, only two of these hotels, which were found non-fire compliant, have been prosecuted till date.

Meanwhile, out of the 1,047 buildings inspected during the same period, 476 were issued a notice but only 23 have been prosecuted till date.

A fire brigade official inspects a building for fire compliance.
A fire brigade official inspects a building for fire compliance.
(Photo courtesy: Chief Fire Officer)

Chief Fire Officer Prabhat Rahangdale says the rules for issuing fire compliance certificates to restaurants have changed drastically since the Kamala Mills fire. While earlier, restaurants were granted a No Objection Certificate (NOC) subject to compliance, now the fire department is equally responsible for checking whether the owners have complied.

“Earlier, I gave the No Objection Certificate (NOC) subject to compliance, the restaurant guys would say ‘We have got the NOC.’ If something happens, I would say that I had mentioned this was subject to compliance, but they haven’t complied. Then the question is, without compliance how are they running the business? Now, after the Kamala Mills fire, the owner is saying that ‘I am complying with the rules’ and I say whether or not he is actually complying. Now there’s no escape for us also. There’s no ‘maybe’ now, it’s just ‘yes’ or ‘no’. That way, responsibilities also lie on both parties now. (sic)” 
Prabhat Rahangdale, Chief Fire Officer     

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