IndusInd Bank taken to court over MIDC blaze

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Top bank officials, including the managing director and facility in-charge, to be booked for flouting norms.

Almost a month after four IndusInd Bank staffers were killed and nine suffered injuries in a fire that broke out at its MIDC Andheri branch on June 6, the fire department has initiated prosecution proceedings against the bank under the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Act, which could land its top brass in jail.

This is the first instance wherein a corporate entity is being prosecuted for failing to adhere to the fire safety norms. If convicted, the bank’s managing director responsible for the branch, and other officials face a jail term up to three months, and/or Rs 50,000 penalty.

The fire department will file a case at Dadar’s Shindewadi Court, and the prosecution papers have already been sent to the BMC law officer (KEast Ward), said Assistant Divisional Fire Officer Harish Shetty. “The bank will be prosecuted for not putting in place the fire safety measures in the building. We have named M/S IndusInd Bank and its top officials, such as managing director, in the prosecution papers,” Shetty said.

In the past, the fire department had initiated prosecution proceedings against Cuffe Parade-based Jolly Maker I, Asia’s richest society, for not adhering to fire safety norms.

No escape routes

A blaze broke out on the first floor of IBL House, Andheri, around 11.15 pm on June 6, and spread to the floors above “within seconds”, according to the fire officials at the site. At least 30 people were trapped inside the building, and four IndusInd back-office staffers — Atanu Laha, 35, Rakesh Shirkar, 24, Rohan Tatkare, 25, and Sandip Naik, 25 — who were on the night shift, died of suffocation.

The fire was doused only around 2 am, and was blamed on the nonfunctional fire fighting equipment and the glass facades in the building.

The first floor didn’t have an emergency exit, and the situation worsened because a small balcony on the seventh floor, which could have served as ventilation, was locked, the fire officials said. They also found that defective wiring caused a short circuit, which resulted in the blaze.

Doctors who treated the injured confirmed all had suffered inhalation burns (suffocation), which strengthened the fire department’s case.

“The firemen had to break down the glass facades to enter the building, which only added to the chaos. Those trapped started running to the floors above, and some even jumped off the first floor. The card access entry into the building further delayed the rescue work,” a fire brigade source said.

IndusInd Bank issued a statement, saying: “”IndusInd Bank deeply regrets the unfortunate fire accident on June 6, 2013, which resulted in the loss of lives of four bank employees, and caused injury to a few other colleagues. The senior management of the bank has extended full support to the families of deceased and the injured colleagues. IndusInd Bank is assisting the authorities in their investigation process.”

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