If we move back to this building, the screams of our children and those of our neighbours will haunt me forever,” said Sanjay Talsania, a victim of the Goregaon SRA building fire, verbalising the sense of dread and grief that many families have been facing since the blaze robbed them of their homes and claimed seven lives on Friday. Some residents said their belongings were stolen as people had run for safety, leaving their doors unlocked. Others said their life’s savings and crucial documents were charred.

The Jay Bhavani building was home to about 63 families. ALL the doors are locked now and the walls of the building are cloaked in black dust. Those whose homes were destroyed in the fire took back whatever important items they could. Some whose homes have only been impacted by the smoke were seen carrying suitcases down the stairs on Sunday to live elsewhere till the dust settles.

Kajal Talsania, a resident of Jay Bhavani building, at the shelter

Cleaning and repair works have begun at the building, but nobody knows when the situation will be safe enough for them to move back. A few residents were overheard saying they heard a victim complaining that a laptop and other valuables were stolen from their house.

‘Body must be cremated’

The body of Diya Tushambar, the 12-year-old girl who died in the fire was lying at the mortuary for two days and could not be cremated as her immediate family, which comprises her brother and parents, are in the hospital.

“We waited for two days for Diya’s family to be discharged. But, we have decided to cremate her as the body is completely burnt and cannot be kept in the mortuary for long. We have no choice,” said Kiran, the deceased’s cousin. She added that the body will be taken from the Siddharth hospital mortuary to a nearby graveyard on Monday for cremation.

Macchindra More, the uncle of 18-year-old deceased Tisha Chougule said the teen was a bright student. “My sister lost her daughter and her house too. Her mother, Lakshmi, was injured along with her son. Half of the house was completely burnt.  My sister and nephew have gone to live with another sister. They still haven’t recovered from the shock. Half of the house and all their belongings have been burnt. Now we will have to start from scratch,” he said. Disha was a first-year BSc student, he added.

‘Can’t stay in school’

With relatives admitted to three different hospitals, Talsania has been doing rounds at one health facility and then another, sleeping on the road outside his building instead of the temporary shelter set up for victims at the Unnat Nagar municipal school. “My wife and children have been living with a relative. They have a small house, so I can’t stay there. The thought of staying in that school while so many of my relatives are in the hospital makes me uncomfortable,” he said. According to the official records, 51 victims have been hospitalised.

Survivors of the fire at the Unnat Nagar municipal school in Goregaon on Sunday evening. Pics/Anurag Ahire

Refuge for the weary

Meanwhile, at the shelter, around 45 beds are neatly arranged for the now-homeless families to rest. There are about 16 of them there, many are still at various hospitals catering to the injured, and others are at their relatives’ homes. Food and water are being supplied by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and doctors have been stationed in the hall of the school. However, the doctors sit at the shelter in plain clothes, and not everyone knows about it.

While some feel there has been adequate medical attention provided in the aftermath, others like the 65-year-old Muralidhar Punwasi Malah said nobody has checked in on him ever since he arrived on Friday. “I suffer from blood pressure issues, and only some of my medicines are remaining,” he said. The sexagenarian is at the shelter with his family of five; his son suffered burns injuries but did not need hospitalisation.

‘Kids could have died’

Samu Kakrodia, a third-floor resident, is still overwhelmed by the horrors of the fire. “We have lost everything; our house is charred. My children could have died,” she recalled. For a brief moment, her children had fallen down on the floor in a bid to escape. “One or two people trampled on them while escaping,” she said.

(From left to right) Tisha Chougule; Diya Tushambar; Muralidhar Punwasi Malah at the shelter

Now, accompanied by her three children, she feels safe at the shelter but not safe enough. “I am still coughing so much and have received no medical attention apart from on the first day,” she said. The residents had struggled for daily necessities like potable water for decades. They told this reporter that the tap water in the school ran out after two days.

Compensation announced

Some residents, who collected and sold old clothes for a living, are now falling short of wares to sell. A few had kept some clothes out to dry on the railings outside their shelter. “For how long are we supposed to stay here and where are we supposed to go? We do not want to return to that building unless it is broken down and rebuilt with adequate safety measures,” said Kajal Talsania, who slept on the road outside the building till Saturday night.

Bereft of hope, Sanjay Talsania will be packing up his belongings and leaving for his village in Gujarat once his relatives are discharged from the hospital. “I cannot live in this city with my family after this. We will figure out something there.” Meanwhile, Rs 5 lakh compensation has been announced for the kin of the dead while R50,000 ex gratia has been announced for the small businesses whose goods were lost in the fire.

‘Residents can return shortly’

Those residing on the first floor of Jay Bhavani are the ones whose belongings and identity cards have been burnt while those on the second, third and upper storeys were mostly affected by dense smoke and have not lost their possessions. Civic officials said it will take three to four more days before the residents will be allowed to return home. “The building’s entire wiring and water pipeline needs to be fixed and we are working on that. Once everything is in place, we can allow people to shift back slowly,” an official said.

Committee set up to probe cause of fire

After Chief Minister Eknath Shinde directed the BMC to conduct an official inquiry into the safety of SRA buildings, a committee was set up on the orders of Additional Municipal Commissioner Sudhakar Shinde. The CM also suggested that fire escapes be built in all ground-plus-seven-floor SRA structures to serve as a safe route of escape in cases of fire. SRA’s CEO Satish Lokhande said, “This is a permanent solution. Apart from that, all SRA buildings will have to follow instructions after the BMC’s fire safety audit,” he said. The committee will be headed by the AMC and will also include Vishwas Shankarwar, deputy municipal commissioner (zone IV); Ajay Kumar Bansal, deputy commissioner of police; Rama Mitkar, deputy chief engineer, SRA; Rajesh Akre, assistant commissioner (P/South); Ravindra Ambulgekar, chief fire officer; S B Satavalekar, chief officer, enquiry; and Rajiv Sheth, deputy chief engineer, building permission. This committee will now investigate the cause of the fire and determine if it had adequate firefighting machinery. Based on its findings, it will create a report and issue recommendations within seven days.

No of families that lived in building

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