NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian police said on Saturday they had filed a culpable homicide case against three people as the death toll from a building fire in India’s Gujarat state rose to 20, with students attending coaching classes accounting for all those killed.
Satish Sharma, Commissioner of Police in the city of Surat, told reporters that one of the three men named in the police report ran the classes and has been arrested, though no charges have been brought yet.
The Gujarat government has ordered an inquiry into the incident, as well as a fire safety audit of schools, colleges, coaching centres and commercial buildings in Surat, where the fire occurred.
Some eyewitnesses and families of the victims have alleged fire officials were slow to arrive, according to Reuters partner ANI. Paresh Patel, whose daughter was inside the commercial complex when the fire broke out, said the fire brigade took 45 minutes to arrive. “Even though my daughter got saved, she is still in trauma,” he told ANI.
Initial investigations showed the fire, which broke out in the stairway of the multi-storey Takshashila Arcade building, was caused by a short circuit, according to local media reports. Police were not immediately available to comment on Saturday.
A government official said at least 50 students were in the complex when the fire broke out. Injured victims were rushed to hospitals and the toll could rise further.
Television footage showed students desperately trying to escape by jumping off the building as smoke billowed from the top floor.
“To avoid such tragic incidents, I have asked officials to conduct fire safety audit of all buildings,” Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said on Friday.
There was no safety equipment installed in the building and no escape routes for the students, a fire official separately said.
Police said the building owner was among the three people named in the report but did not provide further details on their identities.