Gujarat High Court Cracks Down on Safety Violations After Rajkot Fire Tragedy

Background –

In a devastating incident in Rajkot, Gujarat, on 24th May, 2024, a fire at a play or game zone claimed the lives of at least 33 individuals. The blaze was reportedly ignited during welding operations. According to a preliminary report by the SIT, significant negligence by the promoters of the TRP Game Zone was identified. This fire incident occurred in September 2023 and followed a similar event where welding had previously caused a fire at the same location. Despite the fire brigade’s intervention to extinguish that earlier fire, fire department officials failed to address the evident lack of fire safety measures at the TRP Game Zone.

Update on the Issue –

On May 26, the High Court took suo motu cognizance of the Rajkot fire incident that resulted in 27 fatalities. The Court was alarmed by news reports suggesting that the gaming zone might have exploited loopholes in the Gujarat Comprehensive General Development Control Regulations (CGDCR) to construct illegal recreational structures. Gujarati newspapers reported that the gaming zone had erected temporary tin structures to circumvent permission requirements.

The Court vide order dated 13th June, 2024, observed that such gaming zones had emerged not only in Rajkot but also in Ahmedabad, posing significant public safety risks. Concluding that the disaster was prima facie man-made, the Court sought responses from the municipal corporations of Surat, Ahmedabad, Rajkot, and Baroda on the legal provisions allowing these gaming zones and recreational facilities to be established or maintained.

The Gujarat High Court directed the State government to establish a fact-finding committee to investigate the May 24 fire incident at the Rajkot gaming zone and scrutinize the inaction of senior Rajkot Municipal Corporation officers. Chief Justice Sunita Agarwal and Justice Pranav Trivedi emphasized the need for a thorough inquiry, ensuring that any official found negligent would be held accountable.

Further, the Court ordered an investigation into the operations of all municipal corporations in the State, referencing other recent tragic incidents such as the Morbi bridge collapse and the Harni Lake boat tragedy. Additionally, the State was instructed to physically inspect schools, both State-run and private, that serve children aged 3 to 14 years, to verify fire safety measures and building permissions.

The Principal Secretary of the State Urban Development and Urban Housing Department was mandated to file a personal affidavit to submit the inquiry report. The matter is scheduled for further hearing on July 4. Advocate DM Devnani served as amicus curiae, assisting the Court in this case.

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Written by – Anurag Das


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