The ‘to-let’ board can still be seen fluttering at the entry of the building. (Photo: Pallavi Singhal)
A day after fire gutted the first floor of the paying guest (PG) facility at Sector 32, a ‘to-let’ board fluttered at the entry of the building, as if mocking the deaths and saying it will soon be business as usual.
The lanes that were choked with traffic Saturday night, were empty once again. Only the smell of smoke hung in the air, a reminder of the tragedy that had taken place. The charred accommodation was being guarded by two police officials, who guided the girls coming in to collect their valuables but kept everyone else at bay. As a girl picked her clothes lying on a cot outside, a woman constable came to check. “Do you recognise which clothes are yours? Take only those,” she said as the girl hurried on.
Many people stopped by to see what had happened, enquired from the police officials and left. As the sun went down, the neighbours, many of whom had helped the girls yesterday, stood outside the building, recalling the incident. “We heard loud bangs and saw a huge plume of black smoke come out. There was a girl on the second floor who we spotted running. My husband and another neighbour rushed to an adjoining home’s second floor and tried to help her out but there was no way on that side. So they rushed to the next neighbour’s roof, from where they asked her to cross over to the building”, says Heema Kumar, a neighbour.
Jatinder Kumar and Balraj Sehgal finally managed to save the girl’s life.
Jatinder Kumar blames the casualties on the high boundary walls of the house. “The boundary walls should not be higher than five feet. Why had they completely closed all exit points is a mystery to me. Even the boundary wall of the roof is 10 feet high. How is a person supposed to rush out in case of an emergency,” he asked.
Neighbours lamented that it was a small fire that could have been controlled had action being taken in time. “The girls are very young. They got scared. Some even came down looking for flower pots so that they could douse the fire with mud. Meanwhile, the flames turned into an inferno due to the excessive PVC used to make partitions. Also, they told us that no one was inside. I think they were in a state of shock,” said a neighbour.
Not far away, at the mortuary of GMCH-32, distraught parents blamed the administration for the tragedy. “We did not come to see where Muskan was living. It was her life, she was the one who had to travel and adjust here alone. So when she said this is where she had decided to live, we did not question her. But authorities must be taken to task for this. Their apathy has wrecked our lives”, said her father, Rajiv Mehta, as he waited for her post-mortem to be completed.
Apart from Muskan, the fire claimed the lives of Pakshi and Riya, all aged between 19-22.
Parents who had come from far off, stood waiting to receive the bodies of their daughters, breaking down and re-composing themselves as media persons moved around, trying to talk to them. Relatives in tow provided some relief as they took upon themselves to answer the queries being posed by the press. The silence around the mortuary was only broken by sobs.
As ambulances reached there, drivers went about negotiating the fee with the families of victims before taking the bodies to their respective home towns. “It is Rs 16,000 for Hisar,” said one, as a relative of one of the victims okayed the sum.
As the three bodies were taken away, another crowd of people milled around policemen looking for the body of a child who died Friday night after falling off the third floor balcony that had no boundary wall.