The whole nation, especially, the national capital was in the state of alarm when the news of Anaj Mandi fire was flashed in all the News Channels on Sunday. Over 43 were reportedly dead and 16 were injured in this massive fire outbreak, making it the second most deadly fire in Delhi’s history.
Delhi: Fire broke out at a house in Anaj Mandi, Rani Jhansi Road in the early morning hours today, 11 people rescued so far; 15 fire tenders present at the spot pic.twitter.com/GG5mLEVVrf
— ANI (@ANI) December 8, 2019
The four-storeyed building in the congested & commercial area of North Delhi’s Anaj Mandi neighbourhood was packed with sleeping labourers when the fire broke out. The fire broke out at 5 am on December 8, Sunday, on the second floor of the building while it was reported at 5:20 am. It sought 150 fire fighters involving 50 fire engines nearly and four hours to douse the fire.
The building had numerous factories and small manufacturing units operating in it and notably, no fire safety and municipal norms were followed, as the sources report. According to the officials, the fire was triggered by a short circuit on the fourth floor of the building that was being used as a plastic factory. Meanwhile, in less than 24 hours before the Sunday fire, another fire broke out at the fourth floor of a similar illegal factory barely 200 metres away from this building which was reported as a minor fire by the authorities.
The fire officials claim that they received the fire calls quite often from the area. However, the concerned authorities didn’t take any action against the illegal factories being run in the cramped lanes of Anaj Mandi where it is difficult for even a single vehicle to pass through.
Chief fire officer Atul Garg said that the firefighters initially struggled to douse the flames because the narrow lanes blocked the access to the building. “This is the second biggest fire in Delhi’s history,” he said. Atul Garg also said that the factory was operating in a residential area and there were no fire safety provisions.
The fire incident was, however, so horrific that it left witnesses traumatised, and helpless to those who witnessed people urging to live but inevitably succumbed to death. People still managed to share their terrible experiences in their shivering voices about how they had survived the darkest day of their lives.
16 year old Mohammed Sonu, shares how he woke up struggling for air on Sunday morning. Dense smoke had filled the small room that he shared with four others in a building in Delhi’s Anaj Mandi. Everywhere around him men were screaming and imploring for help through the grilled windows. The resident of Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district, Sonu was visiting his brother Mohammed Dulari who had been working at one of these illegal manufacturing units inside the building.
“I woke up and saw everyone screaming bachao bachao (save us, save us),” he said from the emergency ward of Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. “They screamed till they fell unconscious. There were many people. The fire started near the gate and reached till the end of the room,” he recalled.
Meanwhile, in a neighbouring house, 45 year old Mohammed Arif had woken up by the cries for help. “It must have been sometime between 4.45 and 5.15am. I climbed to my terrace from where I saw three to five people inside.” he was quoted as saying. Arif and 10 other people, who had gathered on the rooftop, hurriedly, started making a makeshift bridge using wooden ladders and ropes in the hope to help those stuck inside.
— ANI (@ANI) December 8, 2019
The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) rescuers, who had arrived at the scene by this time, were attempting to reach inside using the makeshift bridge.
“The NDRF rescuers first used a cutter but after the grills didn’t give way, they used an angle grinder to cut through. Two people were rescued and were taken to the hospital,” Arif said.
The fire tenders came into service after being alerted by a call from one of the residents around 5.20am. They were still finding it difficult to reach the factory because of the squeezed streets. “The firemen came late with the water. It must have taken them 15 to 20 minutes. It took them till 8-8.30am to put out the fire, but the smoke was still wafting out,” Aqeel Rehman, another witness, told a news channel as he pointed to the window through which the firemen and rescuers had gained access into the building. According to reports, nearly 150 fire personnel carried out the rescue, pulling out 63 people from inside the blackened building.
Arshad Sheikh, a 19-year-old student at the Delhi University, also shared his horrendous experience. As soon as he was woken up by his sister, he rushed to the street where the incident was unfolding. NDRF rescuers and fire officials were then carrying two men through the window on the third floor. “I gave one of them water. One of the men was screaming — ‘I just got married a year ago, please save me’. He, however, passed away right before reaching the ambulance,” Arshad said. He continued with a shaken voice, “I will never forget what I saw in my entire life. It has left me traumatised.”
“At 5 am, I heard screams from the nearby building. I rushed to the terrace and found that a fire broke out on the third and second floor of the building. Six to seven men were standing near the windows, begging to be saved. As the window cannot be opened, they were trapped inside. A few minutes later, when I returned with locals, only four of them were standing near the window pleading for rescue. After half an hour, we arranged a staircase and a cutter to cut the grilled window. As the gap between both the buildings was a lot, we could help them. By that time, firemen reached the spot and rescued two persons alive from the window panel,” said Md. Rashid, another neighbour.
Rupesh, yet another neighbour who witnessed the fire said, “All the screams are echoing in my ear. It was very painful to witness such a horrifying incident.” Mohammad Afzal was sleeping in his room when the fire broke out in Anaj Mandi on Rani Jhansi Road on Sunday morning. Speaking to India Today TV, Mohammad Afzal said that there were 11 people sleeping in his room when the fire broke out. According to Mohammad Afzal, a survivor of the fire incident, he was stuck on the third floor of the building for about two hours and tried to breathe through a hole in the window. The fire brigade team rescued him by breaking his room’s window.
During the rescue operation, Mohammad Afzal touched a hot iron rod and fell on the ground. He was later taken to Lady Hardinge Medical College where he was treated for his injuries.
The scene in the hospitals where the victims were being taken for the treatment was so disheartening that one can ever imagine, an eye witness informed. The ones who were injured, their family members, witnesses, doctors and lots of others who were a distant part of this horrified incident also had disturbing and painful stories to tell.
At one corner of Delhi’s Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) Hospital’s Emergency ward stood Bhura, a cousin of Musharaff, one of the many deceased in the fire incident. As he opened up, he narrated a story of chaos and confusion that engulfed the bag factory in Anaj Mandi area after the deadly fire. “Musharaff, my cousin called me at 5 am in the morning and told me about the fire. I could sense fear in his voice. It was trembling,” said Bhura slowly.
The fire broke out in the factory between 4.30 am and 5 am on Sunday. He continued, “I even advised him to jump from the building. But he told me that he was standing at a reasonable height and jumping would result in death. Soon the phone line got disconnected and when I reached here at LNJP, I was told he is no more.” Bhura wore a blank face without any emotion.
Bhura wasn’t alone. The hospital’s emergency premise was dotted with such tales of losses. Sajid and Md. Mohsin were among the approximately 60 people who were deep asleep when the fire broke out. His cousin, who refused to give out his name said, “When the fire broke out, no one had any chance of escaping.” He added, the building not only had a bag factory for which his cousin worked but also a jacket manufacturing unit. His cousin was shuttling between the accident ward and the mortuary, trying to figure out if his cousin was alive.
Mustak Naddaq, a young man standing silently at one corner of the LNJP hospital, under a tree. He considers himself lucky among the lot that has visited the hospital on Sunday. His two relatives – brother Abbas and father-in-law Mustaq are alive, he was told. Both were brought into the Hospital’s emergency ward and were undergoing treatment. “Abbas was working in the factory that manufactured caps for over 8 years. He would earn somewhere between Rs. nine to ten thousand a month,” he said. And, he is desperate to meet both of them.
Nurjan Jahan was seen pleading with the hospital security staff to let her in. When asked by the reporters of several news agencies, “They are not telling if my brother and father are safe or not.” She was desperate to know whether the two wage-earners of her family are alive. Many of victims, however, called their friends, family and relatives to have the last word and informed that they will die in the fire as there is no way out.
So far, the Delhi police have arrested the building’s owner identified as Rehan and his manager Furkan. According to the officials of the Delhi Fire Service, the building did not have a fire safety clearance and even lacked safety equipment.
Police said that Md. Raheem had purchased the 600-sq yards plot 10 years ago and later equally distributed among his three children – Rehan, Shan-e-ilahi and Imran. The fire occurred in Rehan’s portion. The owners have been booked under Section 304-A (causing death due to negligence) and Section 285 (negligent conduct with respect to fire or combustible mat-ter) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Police have registered a case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder against the owner of the building who was later arrested along with his manager. “The case has been transferred to the crime branch,” Deputy Commissioner of Police (North) Monika Bhardwaj said. “Owner of the building Rehan and his manager Furqan have been arrested. We are investigating the matter. From the information we have, more or less there is no possibility of more bodies being recovered,” she said.
— Doordarshan News (@DDNewsLive) December 8, 2019
The Delhi government ordered a probe into the fire incident and sought a detailed report within seven days. “It is a very sad incident. I have ordered a magisterial enquiry into it. Compensation of Rs. 10 lakh each to be given to families of those dead and Rs. 1 lakh each to those injured. The expense of medical treatment of those injured will be borne by the government,” Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, said after visiting the site of the accident.
Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi described the fire as horrific. He tweeted, “The fire in Delhi’s Anaj Mandi on Rani Jhansi Road is extremely horrific. My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones. Wishing the injured a quick recovery. Authorities are providing all possible assistance at the site of the tragedy.”
The fire in Delhi’s Anaj Mandi on Rani Jhansi Road is extremely horrific. My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones. Wishing the injured a quick recovery. Authorities are providing all possible assistance at the site of the tragedy.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) December 8, 2019
PM Modi also announced an ex gratia of Rs. 2 lakh each for the next of kin of those who lost their lives in the fire. PM Modi also approved Rs. 50,000 each for those seriously injured in the fire, his office said. The amount will be paid from the Prime Minister National Relief Fund, the PMO stated in a tweet.
Meanwhile, the Crime Branch of Delhi Police collected the evidences using 3D scan technology in order to reconstruct for the investigation of the incident of fire at the building in Anaj Mandi area. A team from the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) also visited the site and collected samples from the building that caught fire. However, Police said that most of the deceased were migrant workers from Bihar who lived in the factory, which manufactured school bags and purses.