Fire Tragedy In Rajkot Gaming Zone Triggers Trauma Of Gujarat

A devastating fire at a gaming zone in Rajkot, Gujarat, has reignited concerns about safety measures and accountability in the state.

(PTI Photo)
Brijesh Kumar Jha, new Rajkot Commissioner of Police, visits the game zone site where at least 27 were killed in a fire on Saturday evening, in Rajkot, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (PTI Photo)

It was a happy family time at the Chauhan household in Rajkot, Gujarat. A long-distance aunt and cousins were visiting the family and were eager to spend the last days of the summer vacation with fun and games.  

Fifteen-year-old Rajbha Chauhan’s young cousins wanted to enjoy the weekend evening at the TRP Game Zone on Kalavad Road, which was running an offer of unlimited fun at Rs 99 discount. Known as a ‘one stop solution’ for adventurous cravings’, the game zone was a popular spot among youngsters and school children for its bowling alley, Gokarting and trampoline park. 

Rajbha was not keen at first, but was coaxed to give company to his visiting cousins, father Pratapsingh said. His twin sister stayed back home.  

A few minutes after they entered the game zone, Chauhan, received a call from his frightened sister-in-law about a fire in the indoor structure. Her husband Virendrasinh Jadeja (40) had rushed to the third floor to bring down his son and niece, both 12 years old. Rajbha was playing near the trampoline on the ground floor, she informed.  

The game zone built on a party plot, had an indoor and outdoor gaming facility which was packed with visitors on Saturday evening. The indoor structure was made out of fabricated tin sheds with air-conditioners mounted upon it and an outdoor facility with go-karting tracks. Asbestos sheets, tires, gas cylinders, large quantities of petrol for the go-karting vehicles and diesel for running inverters, were stored in the premises. A team of welders were carrying out fabrication work on the ground floor, as children played in the gaming zone on the first and second floors, multiple eyewitnesses told Outlook. The single entry and exit way, led to a stampede with very few visitors managing to rush out alive. 

They suspected that the fire might have started due to sparks falling from the welding work, although police officials said that the exact cause would be known only after investigation.     

An ear-splitting blast was heard. Within seconds the entire gaming zone was in flames. Chauhan got off the call with his sister-in-law who kept repeating, “nothing is left, everything is engulfed in fire.” He desperately dialled his son’s number, hoping against hope that Rajbha might have found a way out, and scaled the nearby wall to get out. The last location of his phone was traced inside the gaming zone. 

By the end of the evening, the Chauhan household turned into a funeral site. DNA tests confirmed the remains of the charred body to be of Rajbha, his two cousins Dharmarajsinh and Devanshi and uncle Virendrasinh.  

“We protected our children a lot. We would not even send him to play outside in 30-degree weather and he got burnt alive in 3000-degree heat,” Chauhan said numbed by the sudden loss of his son’s life. 

Krishnasinh Jadeja only received a burnt torso of his nephew Satyapalsinh (19), which was identified by authorities using a DNA test. The first-year college student had gone into the game zone with his two friends and posted his photo on Snapchat at 5.25 pm. “Someone found his phone and left it at a pan shop, that was his only remaining identification. We didn’t get anything else,” the bereaved uncle said. 

The intensity of the fire was so strong that the blaze and smoke were visible from several kilometres away. The presence of highly inflammable materials, thousands of litres of petrol, diesel and several gas cylinders is suspected to have caused blasts. The entire indoor tin fabrication structure caught fire. Body parts recovered from the site were charred beyond recognition, officials said. The massive blaze is estimated to have killed around 33 people, whose remains were identified with DNA matches. The exact number of people at the time of the accident is not known, though officials estimate the figure to be around 100 including 35 staff members.

Activist, Jagdish Patel from Vadodara, an expert in industrial fire safety said the game zone was a ‘temporary construction’ and lacked the necessary fire safety regulations. “No basic safety rules were applied to the gaming zone. Had there been no fire and heavy loss of lives, it would still be functional, flouting all norms,” he rued.

As per the First Information Report filed by the police, the TRP gaming facility was built by Dhavalbhai Bharatbhai Thakkar of Dhaval Corporation and five others from Race Way Enterprise. It had no required NOCs from the fire department and was functioning without any effective fire-fighting equipment. “They operated the game zone knowing full well that if there was a fire, there would be a 100% chance of loss of life and serious injuries,” the FIR record shows. 

The game zone was entirely built on a fabrication structure of galvanised tin sheets with heavy electric wiring hanging in the open. “This incident, therefore, occurred because they put human lives in danger by running a game zone in dangerous conditions,” the FIR states. 

The Rajkot tragedy has triggered the trauma of the four past catastrophes which have claimed the lives of 100 young children in the last four years. The gut-wrenching memories of the 2019 fire at Takshashila Arcade coaching center in Surat killing 22 children are still fresh in Gujarat. So are the fires at the Shrey Hospital in Ahmedabad in 2020, which killed 8; at the Uday Shivanand Hospital in Rajkot, killing 5 and at the Patel Welfare Hospital in 2021 in Bharuch that engulfed 18, 11 of whom were women. 


“There is a lot of anger among people. We seem to be waiting in the queue, unsure when our number will arrive and we will become statistics in fire tragedy,” said Rohit Prajapati, a Vadodra-based activist. Prajapati has worked on fire safety for decades and noted that all major fires in Gujarat including the Rajkot game were the outcome of a systematic failure. “There is administrative negligence and systematic gaps in monitoring safety mechanisms at public places. There are no deterrents or stringent actions to prevent a repeat of mass tragedies.”  

Frequent cases of fatal fires out of sheer negligence have become as much a governance issue in Gujarat as a political one.  


Rajkot’s gaming zone was opened 3 years ago and inaugurated by the city’s top officials locals said. An unverified photo of senior officials from the Rajkot police and municipal corporation at the TRP game zone has been trending on social media as evidence of complicity. A second video of local MLA Ramesh Tilala smiling while talking about the tragedy and mayorNayna Pedhadiya’s refusal to comment on the accused, has left locals fuming with conviction thatlocal politicians are in cahoots with the accused.

“It is very clear that the owners have political connections and there will be no accountability against them. Gujarat has created a political and administrative system where the business class can escape responsibility,” Prajapati said.  


Gujarat Congress Chief and MP Shaktisinh Gohil too questioned the responsibility of the BJP led governments and lashed out against the Rajkot civic body for playing with the lives of the people. “Top officials themselves had been visiting this game zone, so why was the government suspending junior officials. What is it trying to prove.?”

Gujarat has the advantage of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s double-engine government of BJP at the state and the centre. The BJP has 156 seats in the state assembly and from the local municipal bodies to the panchayat level, the ruling leaders belong to the party. The state has benefitted tremendously from large-scale central government funds, investment in public and private sectors, and construction of mega infrastructure and industrial projects. 


But activists said the government has been lenient in law enforcement and accountability. Gujarat has a high track record of industrial accidents due to fire, but instead of framing stringent rules and observing strict compliances, the government has shielded the accused, they claimed. 

In recent disasters like the Morbi bridge collapse that killed 141 people in October 2022 and the boat capsized at the Harni Lake in Vadodara where 12 students and two teachers were killed this January, the majority of the accused are out on bail. These incidents with heavy casualty tolls could have been averted if safety norms and corrective measures were followed, activists asserted. 


In the past, as an expert on industrial safety Prajapati recommended government agencies conduct a review of major incidents every 5 years; recruit, train and capacity building of government employees working in civil works, fire, safety and police divisions and ensure coordination between different government agencies on issuance of licences and monitoring of regulations. “Privatisation and outsourcing have been ramped up in government agencies. There are no checks and balances in the system as the state government has withdrawn from its responsibilities.”

Patel stressed Gujarat and the rest of India urgently need a review of the 2009 National Policy on Safety, Health and Environment at Work. The existing national policy applies to employees and workers in only four sectors: manufacturing, mines, dock and building constructions. “There are no industry-specific laws or policies to ensure safety measures in sectors like indoor or outdoor gaming zones, for instance. The government needs to and issue guidelines for fire safety norms in educational institutions, medical institutes and hospitals, small and medium-scale industries, and public places at large.


In Rajkot, the shrieks and laughter of children in the gaming zone have disappeared into deafening silence. Mangles of iron pillars and tin sheets poke out from the ashes of dust. Chauhan, Rajbha’s father said, “This was not a natural fire, but a manmade tragedy. The owner, municipal and fire officials incharge of giving permissions, NOC and the police, all those responsible should be punished.” He said local authorities have given assurances of government actions and surveys to avert such incidents in future. But he was eagerly awaiting to watch the accused facing strict legal action. “If this case is handled inappropriately or there is any kind of financial settlement and the accused go scot free, I will (kill) them.  I will not let off this case without getting the perpetrators punished.”


The fire in the heart of Chauhan, is far from getting calm anytime soon.