By AFP and FRONTIER
NEW DELHI — Two Myanmar women were among the dead after a fire ripped through a budget hotel in India’s capital on Tuesday, the Embassy of Myanmar in New Delhi said in a statement.
At least 17 people died in the fire which ripped through the Hotel Arpit Palace in New Delhi before dawn. Images showed flames and thick smoke billowing out of the top floor of the hotel, which is located in a congested part of the city.
Seven Myanmar nationals were staying at the hotel when the fire broke out, the Myanmar embassy statement said. They had travelled to India on the Bodh Gaya pilgrimage with an operator called Shwe Mi Bodhgaya Pilgrimage Tour.
Daw Hla May, 66, and Daw Mya Mya Htway, 44, from Yangon Region’s Taik Kyi Township were both killed. Another person was injured and was receiving treatment at Lady Hardinge Hospital, the statement said.
The other four Myanmar nationals were moved to a nearby hotel, Hotel Metro View.
When the fire started, guests at the Hotel Arpit Palace, which is popular with budget and business travellers, were unable to use corridors to escape because of wooden panelling, a fire officer told AFP.
Delhi home minister Mr Satyendra Jain told reporters that rules were flouted to construct extra floors, with a terrace being used as an open air restaurant.
He also directed the fire department to inspect other buildings in the congested area and file a report within a week.
It is estimated around 120 people were inside the hotel, which was built around 25 years ago, when the fire started.
“We have confirmed with hospital authorities the toll is now 17 including a child,” Mr Sunil Choudhary, a senior fire brigade official, told AFP.
Mr G.C. Misra, Delhi fire services director, said the blaze had been brought under control and that 35 people were rescued by firefighters in an operation lasting several hours and involving at least 25 fire engines.
Police said they were investigating the cause, and a judicial probe has been ordered into the latest disaster to raise concerns over fire safety in India.
The hotel is in the Karol Bagh district, a busy commercial centre criss-crossed by narrow alleys where electric wires dangle overhead.
Fires are common across India because of poor safety standards and lax enforcement of regulations.
Activists say builders and landlords often amend building plans to add space, and ignore safety norms to save costs.
Many commercial establishments in the city lack emergency exits or firefighting equipment.
Jain said hotels and similar establishments were not supposed to extend beyond four floors in that area.
“This hotel had been built up to six floors. It’s gross negligence on the part of the officers who allowed the extra floors to be built,” he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “deeply saddened” by the loss of life in a statement posted on Twitter.
Building fires are particularly frequent in big Indian cities where millions live in cramped and dilapidated properties.
In December, eight people were killed when a fire engulfed a hospital in Mumbai. In 2017, 14 people were killed, also in Mumbai, when a huge blaze roared through a popular restaurant.