Don’t look for me. I won’t make it home”, a stoic Imran told his desperate father over the phone, waking him up at 5 am on Sunday. A short-circuit triggered a fire in the building he was in. There were over 100 workers in the dingy four-storey structure that had a makeshift bag factory, a clothes workshop, a printing press and a jacket-making unit. It also served as their sleeping quarters. Only 63 survived Delhi’s worst fire since the 1997 Uphaar blaze, the city’s worst.
The building’s neighbours on Rani Jhansi Road were sad but unsurprised. Small accidents occur with a sickening regularity across north and central Delhi, infamous for its overhanging cables and narrow lanes. Half of Delhi is vulnerable, a fireman shockingly said. Anaj Mandi has nearly 1,000 illegal factories, most of whom without fire permits or safety equipment. Incredibly, even heritage buildings in Lutyens’ Delhi and Central government property like North Block, South Block, the Niti Aayog and Udyog Bhavan don’t go by fire safety regulations. The owner of this building, with windows having no panes so the victims couldn’t jump, and a blocked staircase — was booked for homicide.
However, the loss of 43 young lives — many of them breadwinners — has not come as a rude lesson to those in authority. The blame games continue. The Centre accused the Delhi government of not moving the workshops to a different location while the Arvind Kejriwal government held the BJP-run municipal corporation responsible for not shutting them down. On Monday, another fire, this time “minor”, was reported from the same building in the morning. It reminds us of the adage: History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce!