Sitting on a time bomb, say shopkeepers as fire breaks out in congested South Mumbai market

Abha Goradia
Firefighters douse a blaze that broke out at a shopping complex on Monday. (Express photo by Pradip Das)

A fire broke out at a shopping centre on the busy and congested Abdul Rehman Street in South Mumbai on Monday, a fire brigade official said.

Around four to five shops inside the Super Shopping Centre, located near Jumma Masjid, were gutted in the blaze, which reportedly broke out following a short circuit in an air conditioner in one of the shops. No casualties were reported.

This is the second such incident reported in the area this year. In January, a minor fire had broke out in the rear side of the shopping centre, locals said.

According to the fire department officials, it received a call at 10.47am following which officials rushed to the spot.

They said, the fire was confined to the electric wiring, electrical installation, stock of stationery, clothes and raw garment material on the first and second floor of the four-storey building.

Four fire engines, three jumbo water tankers, a quick response vehicle and an ambulance were sent to the spot to tackle the mishap, even as firemen rescued stranded persons with the help of ladders. The blaze was extinguished around 1.15pm, fire officials said.

Divisional fire officer AV Parab told The Indian Express that the fire was first extinguished from the outside. "No injuries have been reported so far. We are in the process of conducting an inquiry to verify the cause," he said.

Meanwhile, several shop owners in the area claimed that most of the shops in the building, including those gutted in the fire, were rent out to temporary traders. "We are sitting on a time bomb," said Muffazal Shakir, whose shop is located on the ground floor of the building, just beneath the gutted shops.

Around 10.30 am, when the fire started, Shakir had just opened his shop. He had managed to run out of the building as the smoke spread. "An air conditioner had caught fire, which eventually engulfed some hoardings and advertising banners," he said.

Shakir claimed that initially, all fire safety protocols were followed in the building, but since most shopkeepers here had taken shops on rent, the maintenance here had gone for a toss. "Earlier as well, shopkeepers had complained to the authorities, but to no avail," he added.

Another shop owner, Moiz Ismail Penwalla, who owns a shop on the ground floor of the shopping centre for the past 40 years, said: "There are too many wires in the area, leaving the place at a risk. We were lucky that the incident happened in the morning when hawkers had not arrived and not all shops were opened. Otherwise, the road witnesses terrible traffic jam." The shopping centre houses nearly 400 shops, many of which sell cosmetic products.

"Had the fire marshals not come on time, the damage would have been considerable," Ismail Qureshi, an eyewitness who stays a couple of buildings ahead on the same road, said.

According to local residents, several shops in the area were also operating illegally.

When contacted, Assistant Municipal Commissioner of B-Ward Vivek Rahi confirmed that the fire was caused due to short circuit in the wires of the air-conditioner.

"I have given orders to various departments, including fire compliance officers to submit a report on the situation in the area. Since fires here are caused only due to short circuit, I feel that an audit of electrical systems is required. We are also checking licences of the shopkeepers here. We will take a decision after receiving reports in a couple of days."