By Sanjeev Pal
New Delhi, Feb 13 (IANS) No panic alarm, inflammable temporary structures and an unauthorized kitchen in the basement -- these were the many irregularities found by the Crime Branch at Arpit Palace Hotel, a day after a massive fire swept through it in the early hours, killing 17 people and injuring eight in the national capital.
"During investigation it was found that the fire broke out from room No. 109 located at the first floor of the hotel. The room was found totally gutted and the hall's inner wirings were burnt down," said a Crime Branch officer.
"The fire spread through corridors from the first floor to envelop second, third and fourth floors, including the rooftop cafeteria. The fire did not spread to the ground and basement. At first glance the cause of fire is short-circuit which might have triggered sparking and fire, rapidly covering the entire hall portion," the officer said.
"A Crime Branch team headed by Deputy Commissioner of Polce Rajesh Deo will take over the charge from Thursday. A Crime Branch team visited the hotel and collected some evidence on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning," said Additional Commissioner of Police (Crime) Rajiv Ranjan.
The FIR accessed by IANS said: "The hotel, owned by Shardendu Goel, used inflammable material such as rubber, ply-board and plastic for decoration on corridors, gallery and lobby. There were no signages for an emergency exit."
"Most victims died after inhaling smoke. The victims staying on the first to fourth floors could not find their way out as a thick black smoke engulfed the entire area when they woke up after hearing cries of fire. There was no ventilation," the crime branch officer said.
As per the Arpit Hotel record, there were 46 rooms of which 35 were occupied by 60 guests on Monday night. There were 12 hotel employees including the manager, Vikas, on night duty. Instead of helping guests, nine of the staff escaped after the hotel was engulfed in the fire.
"There was no fire alarm installed at the hotel. The hotel gallery and the corridor were smeared with soot," the officer added.
"A fire fighter identified as Subhash Arya was also injured during the rescue operation," The FIR said.
The Crime Branch team has seized hotel documents and the record book of reception to study the sequence of the tragedy. The hotel manager, Vikas, and general Manager, Rajinder - arrested on Wednesday -- are being interrogated," the officer said.
"A manhunt is on to nab Shardendu Goel," he said.
(Sanjeev Pal can be contacted at email@example.com)