Game zone fire: Gujarat HC raps Rajkot civic body, says it doesn't have faith in state machinery

Game zone fire: Gujarat HC raps Rajkot civic body, says it doesn't have faith in state machinery

Ahmedabad | The Gujarat High Court on Monday said it does not have faith in the state machinery "which gets into action only after innocent lives are lost", as it pulled up the Rajkot civic body over the purported lapses in functioning of the game zone facility where a massive fire killed 27 persons.

A special bench of Justices Biren Vaishnav and Devan Desai asked whether the civic body sat over the fire safety orders passed earlier on a PIL for 18 months.

The HC was hearing a suo motu PIL on the TRP game zone fire tragedy which occurred on May 25. A day earlier, the HC termed the incident a prima facie "man-made disaster".

The bench asked whether the civic body had turned a blind eye to such a big structure coming up in its vicinity after its lawyer submitted that the TRP Game Zone had not asked for requisite permissions.

The bench noted that all commissioners of the Rajkot municipal corporation 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.

On Monday, a counsel pointed out the state government will have to come forward to hold a person accountable, and this calls for drastic steps.

"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 bench said.

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

"You were blind to 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 the entertainment tax? So we take it that you are completely turning a blind eye to the whole issue?," the bench asked.

The HC also wanted to know as to 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 noted the game zone was conceptualised in 2021 and continued to operate till May 5, 2024, for over a period of three years, admitted without a fire NOC or any other requisite permissions. On May 9, 2024, the corporation wrote to the owners to furnish fire NOC, it stated in the order.

The question is "inaction of the authorities in even inspecting the site in light of the regulations," it said and questioned why the civic body didn't inquire about the legality of the structures for 3 years since June 2021.

"On the date when the incident occurred, the game zone did not have NOCs or structural stability certificate, and it was merrily going on in front of the corporation," the bench stated.

Owners of the TRP Game Zone created a fabricated steel frame structure with the boundaries of steel patras, the HC said. It did not have a fire NOC and structural stability certificate, and was asked to provide the same in order to get the benefit of regularisation, the court noted.

"The facts itself are eloquent, therefore, to indicate that the game zone at Rajkot was conceptualised, set up and continued to operate under the very nose of the corporation's officials without the requisite permissions," it observed in its order.

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 added.

The bench said the structures set up by the game zone operator cannot be branded as "temporary structures."

The bench stated even the police department has "a lot to answer '' for allowing the game zone to operate in the vicinity of a local police station with fire NOC permission and directed the Rajkot Police Commissioner to file an affidavit.

The bench noted that the AMC, SMC, and VMC swung into action "in a typical knee-jerk reaction" after the Rajkot incident and inspected such entertainment zones. "It was most unfortunate that they acted only after the death of innocent children and young ones," the bench stated.

The HC asked whether the SIT formed by the state will "sufficiently assuage the sentiments of the families who have repeatedly lost their kith and kin in these tragedies which have obviously been man-made."

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