A day after a massive fire killed 27 people at a four-storey building in West Delhi’s Mundka, charred remains of two-three others were recovered on Saturday, with many of the dead yet to be identified amid a hectic investigation that focused on serious violations of building and fire rules, officials said.
The Delhi Police said 19 people were reported missing till Saturday evening, with the identification process of many bodies still underway. The fire, which broke out at the illegal building near the Mundka Metro station on Friday evening, was likely caused by a short-circuit on the first floor, the police said.
On Saturday, as a team carried out search operations on the second floor of the building, they found charred human remains that, according to officials, could be of two-three more people killed in the blaze.
The North Municipal Corporation of Delhi said a preliminary investigation found that the commercial building was operating without a factory licence, sanctioned building plan and basic safety measures. A Delhi Fire Services (DFS) official said the building did not have firefighting arrangements and it never applied for a fire clearance inspection.
“The building only had one entry-exit door. The occupants of the building were trapped because the fire started from the first floor and engulfed the staircase that was the only exit route. The charred remains of two-three bodies were found on the second floor on Saturday. Most of the badly charred bodies were found on that floor only,” said DFS chief Atul Garg.
Of the 27 declared dead, eight people have so far been identified by their family members with the help of ornaments and other items on their bodies, the police said.
“I was able to able identify my wife with the gold bangle I had gifted her in January. The design had two turtles. There was no other way I could have identified her,” said Vijay Pal, husband of Mohini Pal (42), who died in the inferno.
The Mundka blaze is the deadliest since the 2019 factory fire at Anaj Mandi when 43 people were killed. The 27 confirmed fatalities make Friday’s incident thesecond-deadliestsince the 1999 Lal Kuan chemical market fire when 57 people were killed.
Many of the bodies were charred beyond identification. The bodies have been preserved at the mortuary of Sanjay Gandhi Memorial Hospital for the identification purposes, the police said. Genetic testing will be conducted on the bodies to establish their identities, said deputy commissioner of police (outer) Sameer Sharma.
“We will be conducting DNA testing on unidentified bodies as well as on those that have been identified by their family members after seeing bracelets, ornaments and other items on the bodies,” Sharma said.
The police have registered a case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, attempt to commit culpable homicide, concealing design to commit offence punishable with imprisonment, and common intention under the Indian Penal Code’s sections 304, 308, 120 and 34.
According to the FIR, about 100 people were in the building at the time of the incident. Witnesses, however, said the number could be as high as 200.
Two brothers, Harish Goyal and Varun Goyal, who are the owners of a company that manufactures CCTV cameras, Wi-Fi routers, and water purifiers, were arrested over violations on the three floors where their office was housed, said additional commissioner of police (western range) Chinmoy Biswal.
The police said that their father, Amarnath Goyal, was also on the second floor and was feared to have died in the fire.
Investigations revealed that the two brothers took the first floor of the building on rent in 2018 to run their company’s office. Between 2019 and 2021, they took two more floors to assemble and package items and store raw material. Nearly 250 employees, a majority of them women, worked on the three floors, according to locals.
“The owner of the building, Manish Lakra, is absconding along with his family members. Lakra lived on the top floor of the building. We have learnt that Lakra and his family members escaped from the terrace through an adjacent building soon after the building caught fire. Our teams are looking for Lakra,” said Biswal.
Investigators said they are probing why other people in the building were unable to escape through the terrace and if the family’s house on the terrace was locked from the inside.
Fire station officer of Kirti Nagar, Ashok Kumar Sharma, who was leading the firefighting operation on Friday night, said the building had an elevator but its car was on the ground floor when they went inside to douse the flames. “Some charred bodies were lying near the lift’s access point on the second floor, suggesting that people may have tried to use it to get out of the building. The lift may have malfunctioned due to the fire or a short-circuit. Most of the charred bodies were on the second floor. A few of them were lying close to each other, suggesting that the victims may have attempted together to save their lives. The scene inside the building was horrific,” said Sharma.
DFS director Garg said that the periphery of the building was made of glass and the presence of inflammable items caused the fire to spread quickly. “The glasses shattered due to the blaze on the first floor and flames spread to the upper floors rapidly through the windows,” he added.
On Friday night, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolences to the families of those who died in the fire. He also announced an ex gratia of ₹2 lakh each for family members of those who were killed. Along with this, ₹50,000 will be given to those who are injured in the fire, as per the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
On Saturday morning, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, deputy CM Manish Sisodia and health minister Satyendar Jain visited the spot of the fire. Kejriwal said the Delhi government had ordered a magisterial enquiry. He also announced that the Delhi government will give ₹10 lakh compensation to the families of the dead people, while the injured will get ₹50,000 each. The west district magistrate has also asked for a structural stability report of the building.
Around noon on Saturday, a Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) team visited the gutted building and collected samples for examination. FSL director Deepa Verma said: “Our two teams including senior experts are working at the spot currently. They will identify the objects and lift samples for the purpose of identification.”
The experts from FSL will assist the police in identifying and collecting samples from the spot which will be later handed over to the investigating officer, she said. “Charred remains of humans have also been found, so, possibly, a forensic DNA examination would be carried out to determine the identity of the deceased,” she added.
Doctors at the Sanjay Gandhi Memorial Hospital said that once they get clearance from the Delhi Police, they will start calling families to provide their DNA samples. “These will be matched with the dead bodies. The process takes a minimum of four days,” said a senior doctor, asking not to be named.
The front portion of the building has three shops. One shop was used by the building owner for running his real estate business, while the adjacent shop was empty and locked at the time of the fire. The third shop was under renovation.
The first floor of the building was used for running the company’s office and for a visitor’s lounge, while the second floor had a conference room, apart from a space to assemble and package items, the police said. The third floor also had a packaging and assembly unit. Most of the employees worked on the second and third floors, locals as well as police officials said.
“The company’s owner had invited two motivational speakers to have a meeting with the employees and encourage them to work hard. After lunch, all the employees were asked to attend the meeting on the second floor. We were in the meeting when the fire started from the first floor. We could not access the lone staircase as the blaze had engulfed it,” said Pushpa Panwar, a survivor who saved her life by climbing down the second floor using a crane that locals placed to rescue the trapped occupants of the building.
Throughout the day on Saturday, family members of the missing people were present outside the building, making enquiries. An official said the search operation concluded on Saturday.