At least 40 were killed during the weekend in separate fire incidents at a hospital in New Delhi and a gaming arcade in Gujarat Firefighters extinguish a fire which broke out at an amusement park facility in Rajkot, in India’s Gujarat state on May 25, 2024. © AFP

Municipal authorities in the western Indian state of Gujarat have come under fire from the country’s High Court after at least 33 people, including nine children, died in a fire at a gaming center on Saturday, while authorities in Delhi have promised a thorough investigation into a blaze at a maternity hospital on the same day, in which seven babies lost their lives.

In each incident, most victims perished due to alleged safety-code violations. The High Court on Monday lashed out at Gujarat’s municipal authorities after learning that gaming zones in the city had been operating for years without permits or fire-safety certificates.

The court has also questioned the state government for its apparent lack of controls. “Have you gone blind? Did you fall asleep?” a hearing into the gaming-zone inferno heard, according to NDTV. The bench also went as far as to say the bureaucracy and the state government cannot be trusted. “People are dying due to [dysfunctional state] machinery,” the hearing was said.

On the previous day the court, comprising Justices Biren Vaishnav and Devan Desai, looked into the fire tragedy and found it to be a “man-made disaster.”

According to a report from PTI news agency, the court also observed that all local municipal authorities serving since 2021, when the gaming zone started operating, until the time of the incident “should be held accountable for the tragedy that occurred,” and directed them to furnish separate affidavits.

More than 15 people are still missing in the Gujarat incident, according to media reports. The intensity of that blaze was such that many of the bodies recovered could not be identified, forcing authorities to rely on DNA tests, NDTV noted.

CCTV footage that emerged on Sunday shows welding work being conducted on the gaming zone’s premises, which has been reported as a possible cause of the fire. Two of the facility’s six owners have been arrested.

Hours after the Rajkot incident, a fire broke out in India’s capital at the Baby Care New Born Hospital, this one reportedly caused by an oxygen-cylinder explosion. Although 12 babies were rescued from the facility, at least seven later succumbed to their injuries.

No emergency exits or fire extinguishers were available where the fire broke out, police found. In addition, the hospital had been operating without a valid licence since March, Police Commissioner Shahdara Surendra Chaudhary told news agency ANI.

The owner of the Delhi hospital, Dr Naveen Khichi, and a doctor who was on duty when the fire broke out have reportedly been arrested.

Meanwhile, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has promised that any “culprits will not be spared.” “Strictest punishment will be ensured for those found negligent or involved in any wrongdoing,” he wrote on X (formerly Twitter). Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of the country, lamented the weekend deaths and said his thoughts were with the bereaved family members.

Fire accidents across India have caused extensive loss of life and property over the years. According to government data, an average of 35 people per day lost their lives due to fires between 2016 and 2020.

In 2019, 43 people died and over 50 injured after a fire swept through an unregistered bag factory in Delhi’s Anaj Mandi area. In 2016, a blaze caused by a firecracker explosion killed 111 people in Kollam, Kerala. In 2004, 94 schoolchildren burned to death in the Sri Krishna English medium primary school in Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu. Ten people, including the owner of the school, were convicted.

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