Surat Fire: Death Toll At 22, Chief Fire Officer Suspended

The death toll of the devastating fire in Surat has gone up to 22 with two more students succumbing to burn injuries, a senior police official said on Saturday.

The owner of the coaching class, identified as Bhargav Butani, was arrested on Saturday.

The two others accused in the case – Harshul Vekaria and Jignesh Paliwal – both builders, have also been arrested, Satish Sharma, Commissioner of Police Surat confirmed on Sunday, as per ANI. They had been on the run.

Meanwhile, Surat Deputy Chief Fire Officer SK Acharya and Fire Officer Kirti Modh have been suspended.

Gujarat Chief Secretary, Dr JN Singh on Sunday told ANI that the government will soon conduct a meeting on steps needed to be taken in future.

"“In the past two days, 9,395 buildings all over Gujarat have been given show cause notice after a preliminary inspection, after Surat incident. Those issued show cause notice need to reply in 3 days.”" - Dr JN Singh, Gujarat Chief Secretary

He also added, “In Surat, 1,123 coaching centres have been served show cause notice and they have been given three days for complying with fire safety standards. We are working on the overhauling of fire safety infrastructure and making it better all over Gujarat.”

The National Human Rights Commission has also issued a notice to the Gujarat government and observed that a mere announcement of compensation to the aggrieved families cannot be a solution to such kind of hazards.

“Considering the incident as a grave violation of the human rights of the young students, the Commission has issued a notice to the chief secretary of the government of Gujarat, calling for a detailed report in the matter, including status of the criminal cases registered against the building owner and others found guilty, along with action taken against the public servants concerned,” the rights panel said.

The former Gujarat CM Shankersinh Vaghela said, “The mayor and municipal commissioner should resign on moral grounds. It was a man-made disaster. Who gave necessary permissions to the establishment? It is moral duty of the concerned officers to follow the rules.”

What Happened

At least 21 people were killed after they jumped off a commercial complex building, which housed a coaching centre, in Surat on Friday, 24 May, after it caught fire.

Most of them are reported to be students, who were initially understood to be students of the coaching centre but who, as per information currently available, may have instead been attending classes or extra curricular activities for summer vacations at the venue.

The fire engulfed the third and fourth floors of the Takshila Complex. In visuals broadcast on TV channels and online, students can be seen jumping out of the third and fourth floors of the building.

Rescue operations underway at the site.
Rescue operations underway at the site.
Rescue operations underway at the site.

A fire official told PTI that 19 fire tenders and two hydraulic platforms were pressed into service to douse the flames.

The students are reported to be in the age group of 8-15 years. There were 60 students in the class other than the teaching staff. While some died after jumping out of the building, many others died of suffocation and burn injuries. They are yet to be identified.

Locals were seen helping in the rescue operation to save stranded students as well as other occupants of the four-storey building.

“Around 10 students on fourth and third floor jumped off on the ground to save themselves from fire and smoke. Many have been rescued and sent to hospital. The operation to douse the fire is on,” a fire official told PTI.

There was only one entry-exit point in the building and the fire department of Surat Municipal Corporation had issued notices to the building for lack of fire safety equipment. The Ahmedabad Municipal Commissioner has now issued orders to shut down all coaching classes that lack fire safety protocols.

The Surat police commissioner echoed the Municipal commissioner’s orders, adding that all types of tuition classes have been shut down to take stock of the safety protocols in place.

"“Classes can only be conducted after the required fire safety checks are done & a fire safety certificate has been obtained.”"

Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, who met with the victims later in the day, has ordered an investigation into the incident. The state has also declared financial help of Rs 4 lakh to each to the families of children who died in this incident.

The top two floors had a Gym and Garba Dance class for women along with vacations classes for children between ages 8-15, where they are taught Maths, English and writing classes.

Weren’t Holding Classes at the Time of Incident: Aloha Classes

While some reports suggested that the students were from a coaching class in the building, the centre has denied any students associated with it.

One of the coaching centres called Aloha Classes which holds tuitions for school students there, was not holding classes at the time of the incident.

“Aloha Classes are located right under the roof of the building where you could see the smoke rise out and kids jumping out. We didn’t have any kids in our class at that time, since it is vacation season and there were only two teachers in the classes. Whereas on the roof some drawing classes were held, and we don’t know who organised those classes. Our class timings are not in the afternoon, instead we operate from 6-8 in the evening and then there are morning batches,” Anesh Chandhiwala, Support Executive, Aloha Classes (South Gujarat Zonal Office) told The Quint.

However, according to an Indian Express report, most of the students were attending coaching classes in the building, and were expecting their class 12 results, due to be announced on 25 May.

PM Modi, Guj CM Express Condolences

Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to express anguish and said that he has asked the Gujarat government and local authorities to provide all possible assistance to those affected.

Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani said that the authorities have been instructed to do the needful.

“There has been an incident of fire in Surat's coaching class in which small kids have died. This incident is very saddening. The state government will give Rs 4 lakh financial help to families of kids who died. Children injured will be given proper and speedy treatment,” he said in a video shared on Twitter.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi also took to Twitter to express condolences.

Meanwhile, Union Health Minister JP Nadda spoke to Gujarat CM Rupani and assured help. He also directed the AIIMS trauma centre director to “be ready with all necessary arrangements”.

(With inputs from PTI, ANI and NDTV)

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