Rajkot game zone fire: Gujarat HC says it doesn't have faith in state machinery

Court directs commissioners of Rajkot Municipality from July 2021 to file affidavits

Rajkot game zone fire (File) Mangled and burnt ceiling of a fun park is seen after a fire in Rajkot in Gujarat | AP

The Gujarat High Court on Monday came down heavily on the Rajkot civic body over the game zone fire which left 27 persons dead, and said it does not have faith in the state machinery which gets into action only after innocent lives are lost.

The court pulled up the Rajkot Municipal Corporation and asked whether it had turned a blind eye to such a big structure coming up in its vicinity, after the RMC's lawyer submitted that the TRP game zone had not asked for requisite permissions.

A special bench of Justices Biren Vaishnav and Devan Desai was hearing a suo motu PIL on the game zone fire incident. The HC on Sunday took suo motu cognisance of the fire tragedy, terming it a prima facie "man-made disaster".The court also observed that all the Rajkot municipal commissioners, from the time the TRP game zone was set up in 2021 till the time of this incident (on May 25) "should be held accountable for the tragedy that occurred”, and directed them to furnish separate affidavits.

The fire at the TRP game zone in the Nana-Mava locality of Rajkot on Saturday evening killed 27 persons, including children. The game zone was operated without the fire NOC (no objection certificate), as per officials.

On Monday, a counsel pointed out that the unfortunate incident required immediate preventive and corrective measures, and the state government will have to come forward to hold a person accountable, and this calls for drastic steps. The court then said, "Who will take such drastic steps? Honestly speaking, we do not have faith in the state machinery now. Four years after orders of this court, directing them, after their assurance, this is the sixth incident that has happened. They only want lives to be lost and then trigger the machinery," the court observed.

To the RMC counsel's submission that the game zone had not applied to the authorities for requisite permissions, the court asked whether the civic body was blind to such a big structure having come up under its jurisdiction.

"You were blind to that, that this big structure existed, you were not aware of it? What is the corporation's explanation that the whole zone existed for the last two-and-a-half years? What fire safety did they apply for? When ticketing was done, were you aware of entertainment tax? So we take it that you are completely turning a blind eye to the whole issue?" the court said.

The HC also wanted to know when the corporation first recognised the existence of the game zone.

"Till then you were completely ignorant of such a structure in the vicinity? Were you not aware of the orders of this court for fire safety (passed) in a PIL? What were you doing then? There are media reports that your municipal commissioner went there at the time of the inauguration. We can't take judicial notice of that fact? For 18 months, what did the corporation do? Sat over it?" the bench asked.

The court also observed that all the municipal commissioners, right from the time the TRP game zone was set up in 2021 till the time of this incident "should be held accountable for the tragedy that occurred," and directed them to furnish separate affidavits.

"We refrain at this stage from passing any orders, though we would certainly desire to, to suggest that the officers in question be suspended for dereliction of duty and non-compliance with the direction of this court. We do not do so with the hope to give them a chance," the bench further said.

It directed the incumbent RMC commissioner and officers who held the municipal commissioner's post from July 2021 till the date of the incident to file affidavits before the court, explaining various issues regarding certificates on the structural stability of such constructions, etc.

The HC also directed chief fire officers of the Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat and Rajkot municipal corporations to file affidavits on the fire safety measures (in areas of their jurisdiction), such as installation of fire hydrants, checking of fire safety equipment, whether licences (to operate) were obtained from the respective collectorates or mamlatdars.

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