7 die after fire breaks out in shanties of Gokulpuri area
New Delhi: Three children and a pregnant woman were among the seven killed in a massive blaze that gutted shanties in northeast Delhi early Saturday, with preliminary probe suggesting that the fire could have started from a burning cigarette butt or a bidi.
There were some cardboards behind one of the shanties and it is suspected that someone could have thrown a burning cigarette or bidi there, causing the fire, forensic officials said.
Roshan (13) and his sister Dipika (9) and five of a family -- Babloo (32), Ranjit (25), Reshma (18), Priyanka (20) and Shahansha (10) -- were killed in the blaze in Gokulpuri village, information about which was received at 1:03 am, an official of the Delhi Fire Services (DFS) said. Relatives of Priyanka said that she was five months pregnant.
Those injured in the incident are being treated, police said.
President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled the deaths, while Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh for the kin of the adults killed in the incident and Rs 5 lakh in case of the deaths of the children.
The Delhi government will give Rs 25,000 as financial assistance to those whose shanties were gutted.
Thirteen fire tenders were rushed to the spot, the DFS official said, adding that the blaze was brought under control around 4 am.
"Our world turned upside down within a few minutes. Not only did we lose our loved ones but also money and jewellery that we had saved," said one of the deceased's family members.
Roshan and Dipika's grandfather Santu said, "We went to sleep around 10.30 pm and the incident took place around 12.30 am on Saturday. We have no idea how and from where the fire started."
"Though family members managed to escape, Roshan and Dipika got trapped in the blaze," the 58-year-old said.
Seven charred bodies have been recovered from the site, the DFS official said, adding that of about 60 shanties, 30 were completely gutted.
The reason behind the fire is yet to be ascertained, Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police (Northeast) Devesh Kumar Mahla said, adding that a team from the Rohini-based Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) has examined the spot.
Police said a case under Indian Penal Code sections 285 (negligent conduct with respect to fire or combustible matter) and 304A (causing death by negligence) has been registered at the Gokulpuri Police Station.
Further sections will be added after reports of the fire department and the FSL team, a senior police officer said.
Residents claimed that the fire first engulfed 19 shanties on a plot of land and then spread to another 13 shanties on another plot across a wall.
The details of the plot owners are being ascertained, police said.
FSL Director Deepa Verma said, "When we received information regarding the blaze, a team led by the head of the forensic science division, Sanjeev Gupta, was immediately dispatched. The exhibits (collected from the spot) have been preserved and handed over to police. When it will come for laboratory testing, the case will be a top priority."
Information was received around 4.15 am and a seven-member forensic team reached the spot around 5.15 am, a senior FSL official said.
"Evidence has been handed over to the investigating officer (police).
It seems like the fire broke out from behind the shanties where there were some cardboards. It is possible that someone left a burning cigarette or bidi, which caused the fire. However, laboratory testing will ascertain the exact cause of fire," he said.
Preliminary findings suggest that people got trapped as the fire engulfed shanties rapidly even those at the main entry gate, the official said.
Police said bodies were handed over to family members for last rites after post-mortem at the GTB hospital.
Expressing grief over the incident, President Kovind said in a tweet in Hindi, "The news of many casualties in the fire accident in Gokulpuri, Delhi, is extremely sad. I express my condolences to all the bereaved families and wish the injured a speedy recovery."
In a tweet, Prime Minister Modi described the incident as heart-rending while conveying his condolences to the families of the victims.
Kejriwal visited the site of the incident and took stock of the situation and interacted with the affected people.
"When I woke up this morning, I came to know that a fire here killed seven people and many shanties were burnt. I am deeply saddened with this incident. I pray to God that the deceased rest in peace," he said.
The chief minister said he has issued orders for swift release of the compensation amounts.
"I will try to release this (compensation) very soon, in one to two days, so that you get the money soon," Kejriwal said.
BJP Northeast Delhi MP Manoj Tiwari also visited the site and demanded a judicial inquiry into the incident.
"This is a very sad and a heart-rending incident. I urge the CM to immediately announce a compensation of Rs 1 crore for the families of the deceased and those who have been injured should be given the best treatment," he said.