Surat fire tragedy: Two suspended fire officials arrested

The Crime Branch is probing the May 24 incident.

Surat Crime Branch on Friday arrested two suspended fire officials in connection with the last week s fire at a commercial complex, Takshashila Arcade, in the city that killed 22 students.

The Crime Branch, which is probing the May 24 incident, also questioned three officials of Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC), including Deputy Municipal Commissioner Ketan Patel. Some of the officials of Dakshin Gujarat Vij Company Limited (DGVCL), the state-owned power distribution utility, were also questioned by the police.

Deputy Chief Fire Officer S K Acharya and Fire Officer Kirti Modh were earlier suspended by Surat Municipal Commissioner M Thennarasan for alleged negligence of duties. The two officials had allegedly not checked the coaching classes at the Takshashila complex during the November crackdown by the SMC after a fire at a coaching centre had killed a student and a teacher.

They (the arrested two fire officials) had shown negligence in duties. They had not surveyed the premises of Takshashila Arcade (during the November crackdown). We will question them to find out whether they had done it intentionally or under whose direction they skipped, or it was an accident, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Surat Crime Branch) Rahul Patel said.

In his preliminary inquiry report submitted to Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, Principal Secretary (Urban Development Department) Mukesh Puri had pointed out the lapse of Takshashila complex being not covered in the survey in which 440 buildings were asked to comply with safety norms and 39 buildings were sealed by the SMC.

It is a matter of investigation if how come this building (Takshashila Arcade) was not covered under that survey. In my report, I have indicated the responsibility of a fire official who was assigned the task of survey, Puri had said after submitting the report.

Sources in the SMC said that in the wake of the last year s fire incident at a coaching centre, the civic body had directed all tuition centres to install fire safety equipment and provision of easy and safe exit and entry into the premises. The fire department officials were given the responsibility to paste the notices at the tuition centres in their respective zones.

Both the fire officials Acharya and Modh were suspended as they had not slapped notices and did not carry out survey of the premises of coaching classes running on the rooftop of Takshashila commercial complex in Sarthana, Municipal Commissioner Thennarasan said.

With the arrest of the two fire officials, a total of five persons have been arrested in the case. Earlier the Crime Branch had arrested the manager of the coaching centre at Takshashila complex, Bhargav Butani, and the two owners of the multi-storeyed commercial complex Jignesh Pagdara and Hasmukh Vekariya.

The SMC had earlier also suspended a deputy engineer of Town Planning Department of the civic body. Veenu Parmar was in charge of Varachha zone in 2015 when the SMC had given certificate of regularisation to Takshashila complex for the illegal construction of the fourth floor.

Sources said that during investigation it was found that the owners of Takshashila Complex had applied for the regularistaion of third floor in 2013.

However by 2015, when the application was approved, they had illegally constructed the dome structure on the roof, where the coaching institute was located. Parmar as deputy engineer of the zone allegedly did not visit the spot personally, and based on his report the certificate was issued.

After the fire incident, police had registered a case under IPC sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide), and 114 (abettor present when offence is committed). The case was later handed to Crime Branch of Surat police.