Gujarat High Court Orders Fact-Finding Probe into Rajkot Gaming Zone Fire

Mainstream
18-Jun-2024
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The Gujarat High Court has directed the State government to establish a fact-finding committee to investigate the May 24 fire incident at a gaming zone in Rajkot and scrutinize the inaction of senior officers of the Rajkot Municipal Corporation.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Sunita Agarwal and Justice Pranav Trivedi emphasized the need for a thorough inquiry, ensuring that no guilty or irresponsible official is spared. The Court asserted, "All aspects of dereliction of duties or inaction on the part of the officers of the Rajkot Municipal Corporation shall be brought into light."

The bench further ordered an examination of all municipal corporations in the State, referencing recent tragic incidents such as the Morbi bridge collapse and the Harni Lake boat tragedy. The Court highlighted that these repeated incidents suggest a pattern of negligence, stating, "Public places managed by the Corporations and places of amusement with significant public footfall have been kept unsafe for human lives due to dereliction in the discharge of duties or inaction of the head of the institution."

The order also mandated physical inspections of both state-run and private schools catering to students aged 3 to 14 years, to ensure compliance with fire safety measures and building permissions. Reports on these inspections are to be filed within one month.

The Court set a follow-up hearing for July 4, 2024, and instructed the Principal Secretary of the State Urban Development and Urban Housing Department to file a personal affidavit containing the inquiry report.

The High Court had taken suo motu cognizance of the Rajkot fire on May 26, which claimed 27 lives. The Court was shocked by news reports indicating that the gaming zone might have exploited loopholes in the Gujarat Comprehensive General Development Control Regulations (CGDCR) to erect illegal structures for recreational activities. Reports also suggested that the gaming zone used temporary tin structures to bypass technicalities in obtaining permissions.

The Court's order noted the significant threat posed by such gaming zones, not only in Rajkot but also in Ahmedabad. It concluded that the disaster was man-made and requested responses from the municipal corporations of Surat, Ahmedabad, Rajkot, and Baroda regarding the legal provisions allowing such facilities to operate.

On June 13, after reviewing an affidavit from the Rajkot Municipal Corporation, the Court noted that the gaming zone operated without proper building use permission and merely with police permission under Section 33(x) of the Gujarat Police Act, 1951. Despite an application for regularization under the Gujarat Regularization of Unauthorised Development Act (GRUDA), no action was taken.

The Court criticized the municipal officials for failing to discharge their duties properly, stating, "The Municipal Commissioners of Rajkot Municipal Corporation... have failed to discharge their duties and responsibilities to ensure that no unauthorized structure is occupied or permitted to be used by any person without a proper building use permission following structural and fire safety norms."

The Court ordered the Principal Secretary to form a high-level committee of three senior officers to conduct a fact-finding inquiry. This committee will identify the faults of the erring officers of the Rajkot Municipal Corporation, including the municipal commissioners who served from the building's erection until the fire incident.

The matter will be further heard on July 4, with Advocate DM Devnani assisting the Court as amicus curiae.

Author: Anushka Taraniya

News writer