All aspects including sabotage angle will be investigated while ascertaining the cause of the massive fire that gutted the stage during a cultural programme at the Make in India Week event in Mumbai on Sunday night attended by many VIPs, an official said on Monday.
Fire brigade authority has begun an inquiry into the blaze. "We will probe all aspects, including finding out if there was a sabotage angle involved," a fire brigade official said. No casualties were reported as the venue at the Girgaum Chowpatty area was emptied within minutes.
As the audience scrambled to safety, Firstpost reporter Sanjay Sawant heard strains of soundbites like these: "Maharashtra ki barah baj gayi" which, loosely translated, means the State's image has taken a good beating.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the 'Make in India' week in India's financial capital Mumbai on Saturday.
The week-long event, the boldest since Modi launched the initiative to emulate China's export miracle back in 2014, seeks to "spark a renewed sense of pride in India's manufacturing” says the marketing blurb.
“Maharashtra welcomes you” read half burnt posters and banners at the venue as cranes picked up the remains of the night and smoke continues to billow many hours after the fire, Sawant reported.
"Disarray is the word. I can imagine the headlines tomorrow in Beijing and Islamabad. There is no tape to cordon off people, anyone is just walking in and picking up scraps...," I'm very disappointed at these optics...what kind of message does this send out to the world about India's financial capital?" a witness at the scene around midnight told Firstpost. Bollywood stars flee Make in India event, the BBC reported.
"We were shaken with the sudden announcement that there has been a fire at the venue but thankfully there were multiple exit routes," said Heman Goyal, a Delhi businessman who was attending the event. "There was chaos but we all got out in time. I saw parts of the stage burning."
Set designer Nitin Chandrakant Desai ruled out any flaw in sets which could have led to the blaze. "A fire audit will ascertain reasons but I am sure it was not due to the sets," he said.
The blaze is likely to overshadow the message of India being open for business that Modi wanted to send. When he opened the investor jamboree on Saturday, Modi called Make in India "the biggest brand India has ever created".
The prime ministers of Sweden and Finland took part in Saturday's gala opening ahead of Make in India Week, which is being attended by 2,500 foreign companies and 8,000 firms from India.
The week-long string of events is meant to showcase India's "manufacturing prowess" and attract billions of dollars in investments from domestic and global majors.
Over 2,500 international and 8,000 domestic companies will be participating in the week-long multi-sectoral industrial event, which will be attended by foreign government delegations from 68 countries and business teams from 72 nations. Clearly, high stakes here. Though the official line is that a short circuit could have done it, the "sabotage?" angle is raging on social. Although the Mumbai fire chief says investigation is on and the cause of the fire will be known, here's the thing: Many hours after the fire, smoke was still swirling at the venue, people still walking around fiddling with burnt remains, examining debris lying around, police had not blocked off entry, how would any official be able to stop folks who may want to tamper with evidence?
Chowpatty is a banned area for such events and Bombay High Court had refused permission for the event. Yet, the Maharashtra government pushed ahead and went to the Supreme Court seeking permission for the event which it got barely two weeks ago. Did the government lose time in legalities and do a rush job on safety considerations is another question everyone's asking.
According to fire officials, the blaze may have been caused due to firecrackers that were set off at the venue, DNA reported on Monday. Varying versions have emerged about the causes leading to the blazing fire that brought down the stage.
Some officials also said that the fire may have started due to a short circuit. The stage creator Nitin Desai told The Mumbai Mirror, "This was clearly due to a short circuit. I prepared the stage and handed it over at 4.30 pm, and my responsibility ended there. The wiring was done later."
Additional Chief Secretary KP Bakshi said that a gas leak may have taken place due to pressure cylinders meant to light up firecrackers later.
Wizcraft, the organisers of mega events, on Monday claimed that a complete fire audit, including all safety checks of the main stage of the 'Make In India Week' cultural extravaganza, was carried out before was gutted in a huge fire.
"Prior to the event, all safety checks and audits were done during rehearsals and prior to the show. All fire and safety norms prescribed have been followed," Wizcraft said in a statement on Monday.
Wizcraft said that the detailed planning, both with regard to smooth execution of the event and disaster management in case of an unfortunate incident, ensured that there were no casualties and injuries in the fire which reduced the stage to ashes on Sunday night.
The statement said that as soon as the fire broke out - around 8.15 p.m. - the audience comprising many VVIPs, performers, and technical crew were evacuated to safe zones inside and outside the venue at Girgaum Chowpatty beach.
BMC Disaster Control brought the fire under control within an hour by which time there wasn't much left of the stage which hosted Amitabh Bachchan and Vivek Oberoi and chief minister Fadnavis barely an hour before the blaze.
At least 14 fire tenders and 10 water tankers were rushed to the site.
Maharashtra Governor C V Rao, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and his wife Amruta Fadnavis, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and his wife Rashmi Thackeray, actors Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Hema Malini, Katrina Kaif, Vivek Oberoi, Isha Koppikar and Shreyas Talpade, ministers, parliamentarians and legislators witnessing the performance were shifted to safer places.
For those of us who were at the venue, the first visual of the fire was an angry orange spark just below where Puja Sawant was dancing and it seemed to have caught the top of a decorative foliage and erupted out control in seconds. BMC said the fire could have been caused by an electric short-circuit.
Fadnavis termed the incident sad and said a comprehensive probe will be ordered and those responsible for it would face action.
Fadnavis confirmed that there were no injuries or casualties and all artistes and guests were evacuated safely.
With inputs from agencies