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Rajkot Fire Tragedy: 4 Govt Officials Arrested; SIT Interrogates Former Chief Fire Officer

The massive fire that erupted at the gaming zone in Rajkot city on May 25, killed as many as 27 persons, including four children under the age of 12.

PTI
TRP Game Zone fire tragedy site. Photo: PTI
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Gujarat's Rajkot police on Thursday arrested four government officials, including a town planning officer (TPO), in connection with massive fire at TRP Game Zone that claimed 27 lives last week.

Adding to the previous arrests the total number of arrested persons is now nine, an official said. Director General of Police, Vikas Sahay, confirmed and said "Four government officials have been arrested."

The massive fire that erupted at the gaming zone in Rajkot city on May 25, killed as many as 27 persons, including four children under the age of 12. The probe into the incident is being conducted the special investigation team (SIT) constituted by the state government.

RAJKOT FIRE TRAGEDY | LATEST UPDATES

FOUR GOVT OFFICIALS ARRESTED

In a latest development in the investigation into TRP Game Zone's fire tragedy, four government officials were arrested by the Rajkot police on Thursday.

The arrested officials include, town planning officer (TPO) MD Sagathia, assistant TPOs Mukesh Makwana and Gautam Joshi, and former station officer of Kalavad Road fire station Rohit Vigora. This now takes the total number of arrest to nine.

As per a government release, nine officials have been suspended in connection with the incident for alleged "gross negligence in allowing the game zone to operate without necessary approvals".

These comprise Joshi, Vigora, Rajkot's chief fire officer IV Kher, his deputy BJ Theba, assistant engineer in the Rajkot Municipal Corporation's town planning department Jaideep Chaudhary, Roads and Buildings department's deputy executive engineers MR Suma and Paras Kothiya, and police inspectors VR Patel and NI Rathod.

Notably, three IPS officers, including the then police commissioner Raju Bhargava, were transferred out of Rajkot after the tragic incident.

COURT ISSUES NOTICE TO SIT, SEEKS STATUS REPORT

A court in Rajkot issued notice to the SIT on Wednesday, seeking a status report of its ongoing inquiry against IPS and IAS officials who were transferred, and others who were suspended after the tragedy.

The notice came on a plea seeking registration of criminal cases against these officers. The 'criminal inquiry plea' sought FIRs against the then police commissioner Raju Bhargava, municipal commissioner Anand Patel, and two IPS officers who were transferred, and nine suspended officials.

The petition argued that the grounds on which these officials were transferred or suspended were enough to register an FIR.

PAID BRIBE TO GET FIRE NOC: CLAIMS GUJARAT BJP LEADER

A senior BJP leader and Rajya Sabha member from Gujarat, Ram Mokariya, claimed that he had paid a bribe of Rs 70,000 to obtain a NOC from the Rajkot Municipal Corporation's fire department.

Mokariya reportedly shared his "personal experience to highlight widespread corruption” in Rajkot.

SIT QUIZZES FORMER FIRE CHIEF

Senior IPS Subhash Trivedi, head of the SIT, quizzed former fire chief IV Kher on Thursday, at the state police headquarters in Gandhinagar for nearly three hours, news agency PTI cited sources as saying.

Kher had earlier revealed that the gaming zone was being operated without the mandatory fire NOC (No Objection Certificate) as the management had never applied for it.

He clarified that he gave the bribe to a deputy fire officer BJ Theba nearly five years ago when he was just a businessman and not a member of the Upper House.

“I gave Rs 70,000 nearly five years ago to Theba to get a fire NOC for a project. I have learnt he is now being questioned by police for his alleged role in the game zone fire. I just wanted to highlight that corruption is widespread and I have made representations about it in the past too,” Mokariya told reporters.

His statement came amid the transfer and suspension of officials in connection to the fire tragedy at the TRP Game Zone.

ANOTHER CO-OWNER OF GAME ZONE ARRESTED

Kiritsinh Jadeja, a parter in Raceway Enterprises which operated the TRP Game Zone, was arrested from Rajkot-Kalavad road on Tuesday night, said city's Deputy Commissioner of Police (Crime) Parthrajsinh Godhi.

Jadeja is among the six partners of the firm named as accused in the FIR.

Notably, the main accused -- Dhawal Thakkar -- was arrested from Abu Road in Rajasthan on Monday. The police had earlier arrested Yuvrajsinh Solanki, Rahul Rathod, Thakkar, all game zone partners, and its manager Nitin Jain, as per officials.

The FIR was registered under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide), 337 (causing hurt by an act that endangers the life or personal safety of others), 338 (causing grievous hurt to a person by doing an act that endangers their life or personal safety) and 114 (someone present when offence is committed).

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FIR AGAINST 18 ILLEGAL GAME ZONES IN GUJARAT

Gujarat Police launched a crackdown after the TRP Game Zone fire tragedy and booked owners of 18 such facilities which are allegedly operated without necessary permissions.

State Home Minister Sanghavi directed all police commissioners and superintendents of police to register FIRs against the management of illegal game zones.

In Rajkot city, police sealed eight game zones, including a water park, and registered cases against their owners for operating without any permission, police said, adding FIRs were registered under section 336 (Act endangering life or personal safety of others) of the IPC and under provisions of the Gujarat Police Act.

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In Ahmedabad, police sealed four such illegal game zones and filed cases against their owners, while in Surat a total of six game zones were sealed.

INSTRUCTIONS TO CONDUCT FREE AND FAIR PROBE

The SIT questioned over 25 persons and seized several documents in connection with the probe into the TRP Game Zone fire tragedy.

"The state government has given us clear instructions to conduct a free and fair probe to ensure that injustice is not meted out to anyone. We have so far conducted a preliminary probe and seized all the relevant documents related to the game zone and further investigation is on," said SIT head and senior IPS officer Subhash Trivedi.

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He said that the state wants to ensure that no such tragedy takes place again in the future.

Gujarat Home Minister Harsh Sanghavi on Monday had said that the SIT had seized all files related to the game zone for further probe.

"All the relevant files from 2021 till 2024 were seized by the SIT in my presence from various departments," Sanghavi had said.

The SIT includes Commissioner, Technical Education, BN Pani; Director, Forensic Science Laboratory, Gandhinagar, HP Sanghvi; Chief Fire Officer, Ahmedabad, JN Khadia; and Superintending Engineer, Roads and Buildings Department, MB Desai.

GUJARAT HC SLAMS STATE GOVERNMENT

The Gujarat High Court took suo moto cognisance of the fire tragedy and came down heavily on the state government for inaction over the gaming centre being built on unauthorised premises.

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"Have you gone blind? Did you fall asleep? Now we do not trust the local system and the state government," the court reportedly said on Monday after it was told the gaming centre in Rajkot had been built on unauthorised premises and that a hearing regarding fire safety had been on for four years.

(With PTI inputs)

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