Mundka fire: Delhi L-G gives nod to probe; bio samples of victims' kin collected

District magistrate (West) will probe lapses on the part of the concerned departments and agencies, recommend action against the erring officials and fix responsibility, officials said on Sunday.
Security personnel and media at the site, as NDRF carries out rescue and relief work after a fire in Mundka. ( Photo | Parveen Negi, EPS)
Security personnel and media at the site, as NDRF carries out rescue and relief work after a fire in Mundka. ( Photo | Parveen Negi, EPS)

NEW DELHI: Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal has approved a magisterial inquiry into the Mundka building fire, which claimed the lives of 27 people, and it will be completed within six weeks, officials said on Sunday.

District magistrate (West) will probe lapses on the part of the concerned departments and agencies, recommend action against the erring officials and fix responsibility, they said.

The DM will also suggest remedial measures to prevent such tragedies in future, the officials said.

The fire, one of the deadliest in recent years, ripped through a four-storey building in outer Delhi's Mundka area on May 13.

It started on the first floor of the building due to a suspected explosion in an AC, according to fire officials.

Nineteen people are still missing.

The magisterial probe into the incident was announced by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal when he visited the spot on Saturday.

According to the officials, the file on the probe has been approved by the LG.

The terms of reference of the inquiry include ascertaining the circumstances and the cause of the fire.

"The probe will also ascertain lapses on the part of the concerned departments and agencies and their officers in relation to their expected roles.

It will fix responsibility of the concerned officials for the lapses and recommend action against erring officials, individuals and agencies," the officials said.

The probe will also suggest remedial measures to prevent such tragedies in future, they said.

As part of the inquiry, the DM will also ascertain if there was any violation of laws, they added.

The Delhi government has announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh each for the kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 for those injured in the fire.

Earlier on Sunday, the Delhi Police arrested the owner of the building following multiple raids in the national capital and Haryana.

Meanwhile, the Delhi Police on Sunday said it has collected biological samples of at least 20 people, whose family members are believed to be killed in the fire, for DNA profiling.

These members also include kin of the eight people whose identities have already been ascertained, officials said.

At least 27 people were charred to death in the massive blaze that ripped through the four-storey building on Friday, according to the police.

"Though eight charred bodies have been identified, we have collected DNA samples from their family members, too, to fully confirm their identities.

So far, we have collected samples from over 20 people for the process of DNA profiling, which will be carried out by forensic experts," Sameer Sharma, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Outer), said.

"DNA sampling is a long process. We will ensure it is completed within a span of five-ten days. Once the DNA profiling is done, all the charred bodies and remains found can be identified and handed over to the family members concerned," he added.

An expert from the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) in Rohini here said bones, hair with roots, teeth, blood and samples from other body parts were collected.

"On Saturday, our teams collected samples, including those from the charred human remains, which were mostly bones and hair. Charred bodies which have been identified have gone for postmortem while those unidentified yet will also be identified through DNA profiling," the expert said.

The official said the DNA profiling technique was earlier used in ascertaining the victims' identities in the Northeast Delhi riots, Anaj Mandi fire and in a major fire tragedy at a shoe factory in West Delhi's Udyog Nagar.

Explaining the technique, he said DNA is extracted by breaking the cell membrane and nucleus membrane.

It is then washed with alcohol and preserved.

This is followed by DNA quantification to check its quality and quantity.

Later, it is passed through a test called PCR amplification to ensure it is the DNA of a human.

"The DNA found in the forensic samples is very low in amount. So, it is amplified before DNA sequencing. Billions of copies are produced in this process. During DNA sequencing, the amplified DNA is sequenced in DNA sequencer machine. These sequences are produced in the form of a graph showing peaks. The DNA sequence is then matched with the questioned DNA sample," he added.

The NHRC on Sunday sent a notice to the Delhi government, while observing the incident has established the city authorities have "learnt little" from past experiences.

The police have so far recovered 27 bodies following the Friday incident.

Of them, 14 have been identified as women and six as men.

"The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has taken suo motu cognisance of media reports that as many as 27 people died in a major fire in a four-storey office in Mundka, Delhi on May 13.

"Reportedly, this fire incident has once again established that the city authorities have learnt little from similar incidents in the past that exposed the utter lack of fire safety mechanisms and the gaping holes in their implementation," it said in a statement.

The panel has issued the notice to the Delhi government's chief secretary, seeking a report within two weeks that would include action taken against those responsible, fixing the culpability and status of disbursement of the relief or rehabilitation granted by the government, if any.

Issuing the notice, NHRC observed that going by media reports, "this appears to be the worst case of gross violation of human rights of the victims due to utter apathy and complete dereliction of statutory duties of public servants in the national capital of Delhi causing loss of valuable lives due to fire".

"Looking into the gravity of the matter and observing the authorities appear least bothered on its earlier recommendations in similar incidents, the commission has also asked its director-general to send a team immediately to conduct an on-spot investigation in the matter," the NHRC said in a statement.

It said that according to media reports the building had no sanctioned plan and the factory was operating without any licence.

"The fact has reportedly come out in an inquiry conducted by the North Delhi Municipal Corporation. Hundreds of buildings are operational from congested quarters with authorities struggling to curb them. There are several areas in Delhi where even fire tenders cannot enter because of rampant unauthorised constructions," the statement said.

A fire had occurred in the Anaj Mandi area of Delhi in 2019 in which 43 people had lost life, and the NHRC taking suo motu cognisance of the matter had directed the authorities to lay down an action plan to tackle the problem of illegal industrial activities in Delhi.

"Reportedly, a Special Task Force (STF) was formed by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and an inter-departmental committee was formed by the civic body.

The panel had submitted its action plan in the year 2020 and the STF gave its recommendations in 2021 but both have not yet been implemented," it said.

Reportedly, the probe report for fixing the culpability of officials in the Anaj Mandi fire incident was "never made public".

"It is also mentioned in the news report that the urban development department of the Delhi government had issued an order to the Delhi Fire Service and the civic bodies, relaxing some of the norms, which were made strict after the earlier fire incidents occurred in Delhi," the NHRC statement said.

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