Unhappy with Rajkot fire tragedy probe, Gujarat HC berates top officials; orders 'fact finding inquiry'

Referring to the Morbi bridge tragedy and Harni lake incident which occurred in recent past, the CJ questioned the functioning of urban local bodies.
Last Updated : 13 June 2024, 16:57 IST

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Ahmedabad: The Gujarat High Court on Thursday expressed displeasure on the investigation underway into the Rajkot game zone fire that killed 27 persons last month, and ordered a 'fact finding inquiry' to find out how the illegal structure came up and what was the role of officials.

Expressing anguish over several senior officials attending the inaugural ceremony of TRP Game Zone, which was gutted on May 25, the High Court said a departmental inquiry to fix accountability of officials will be ordered once the fact finding committee submits its report.

A division bench comprising Chief Justice Sunita Agarwal and Justice Pranav Trivedi was hearing a PIL it had taken up on May 26.

The CJ asked the state government to constitute a fact finding committee under the Principal Secretary of Urban Development and Urban Housing Department by Monday. It asked the state government to submit the report by July 4.

Simultaneously, the bench also asked the principal secretary of the state Education Department to constitute teams to carry out fire safety inspections of all categories of schools, including pre-schools, in the state and finish the task in one month.

During the hearing, senior advocate Amit Panchal, whose civil application about fire safety has been clubbed with this suo motu PIL, informed the bench that the then Superintendent of Police of Rajkot, district collector, municipal commissioner of Rajkot and District Development Officer had attended the inaugural ceremony of TRP Game Zone.

Though Advocate General Kamal Trivedi informed the bench that the state government has already appointed a Special Investigation Team and its line of probe was similar to what the bench was expecting, the chief justice said the government was only catching lower rank officials and letting go "big fish".

"We are not into the SIT report. There has to be a disciplinary inquiry and a fact finding probe to find out who was at fault from the day it (game zone construction) started till it was completed and occupied. Top officials had attended events at the game zone. You only suspended lower rank officials. Top officials have to go," said CJ Agarwal.

"The municipal commissioner cannot say that I am not aware. You arrested officials without conducting any fact finding inquiry on whether any higher officials were responsible or not. You are taking action against smaller fish. Big fish, who were present in the inaugural function, where are they? Why have you not put any responsibility on them?" asked the bench.

Referring to the Morbi bridge tragedy and Harni lake incident which occurred in recent past, the CJ questioned the functioning of urban local bodies.

"We want a fact finding inquiry. We want to know the role of erring officials. Each and every official has to be named in the report. Accountability has to be fixed after conducting a departmental inquiry. Nothing less than that," said the CJ.

When the advocate general, appearing for the state government, urged the bench to wait for some more days because the SIT is submitting its report on June 20, the bench pointed out that the SIT report on the Morbi bridge tragedy came very late.

"Not for a single day. We want a departmental inquiry, and the first step is a fact finding inquiry by a departmental authority. Because you are responsible for everything. We had our patience in the first two incidents. In all three incidents (Morbi bridge collapse, Vadodara boat incident and Rajkot game zone fire), one thing is common. These municipal bodies are not working efficiently," said the Chief Justice.

"It happened in Morbi (Morbi bridge collapse incident). You waited for the SIT report for years. It came at a very late stage. We don't want to do that. Why is the departmental head sitting silently? He should have initiated on his own, '' said CJ Agarwal.

Apart from investigating the Rajkot fire incident, the bench asked the government to ensure the fact finding committee also examines the functioning of all municipal corporations.

Published 13 June 2024, 16:57 IST

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