The fire that broke out last week, on June 15, at a coaching institute in Capital’s Mukherjee Nagar has left thousands of students studying there worried.
A short circuit in an electricity meter of Sanskriti IAS Institute in Mukherjee Nagar’s Bhandari House, which houses several coaching centres and offices, had led to a massive fire as several students jumped from the second and third floors of the building to save their lives. Over 60 students and workers were admitted to hospitals and later discharged.
The building which caught fire is located less than four kilometres from Delhi University’s North Campus. It has a basement, and five floors including the ground floor. It houses several coaching institutes, a library, an office and some shops.
“That day, the director of the institute, Akhil Murti was taking a UPSC demo (demonstration) class. More than 150 students were present. When fire erupted in the basement, the students found no way to exit because smoke had engulfed it. The injured included mostly the students who either fell while attempting to climb down the building with the help of ropes, pipes, and cables from the top floors, or were hurt in a stampede while trying to escape through the smoke,” recalled an aspiring student to Patriot.
“There are more than 10 [energy] meters in the basement near the staircase. Most of the coaching institutes here have only one door for entry and exit. The staircase is also very narrow,” he added.
Ajay Kumar Chaudhary, who hails from Prayagraj (formerly Allahabad in UP), is one of the eyewitnesses of the incident. He was present in the Sanskriti Institute’s demonstration class.
“There were around 300 students in the class which started at around 11:30 am,” he recalled.
“After an hour, fire erupted in the basement through a short circuit in the electricity meter and the smoke spread to all floors of the building. The students in the class got scared and some started crying. Some broke the gate of the floor and escaped from another building gate while some climbed down by cables and windows. Sir (Akhil Murthy) was also there and came out only in the end. I wore a mask and went to the rooftop via stairs and came out of an adjacent building. There were many students on the rooftop. The students who jumped or came out via cables and windows got injured but those who escaped through the rooftop are safe.”
The building, where the fire broke out, was barricaded by police and more than 10 policemen were deployed on two sides of the building. When Patriot visited, students had gathered there and protested against lack of safety and security measures.
The students want strict action against the coaching centres and allege that they are interested only in minting money and have no concerns of safety.
Mukherjee Nagar and GTB Nagar are hubs of coaching for government job aspirants. Business here revolves largely around coaching centres and banners of these are pasted everywhere.
A female student who has been undergoing coaching for UPSC exam at the Destination IAS academy for the past one-and-half years said, “There is nothing in the name of safety here. Very narrow stairs lead to my coaching institute. The electricity meters are at the entry gate. The situation is similar in my PG. They only make money but provide no facilities. I pay Rs 9,000 for the PG room which is cramped. I also pay electricity charges and have paid Rs 1.2 lakh in coaching fees. Now, my parents are concerned and have asked me to return home for a few days.”
NO ONE TO LISTEN
The students allege that despite the accident and poor fire safety standards in buildings in the thickly populated area, no one is listening to them. Not even police.
“Neither any coaching institute nor any teacher is supporting us now. The police also came very late on the day of the incident. They are humiliating us by saying that we loiter around and waste time in frivolous activities. That day too, when we had blocked the main road after the incident, police resorted to lathicharge on us,” some aspirants who were gathered outside the building told Patriot.
Most of the students didn’t want to reveal their identities for fear of being sidelined by their institutes. Some also alleged that the coaching institute gave direction to students to avoid giving negative comments to the media.
A student, who belongs to Rajasthan and is undergoing coaching for UPSC exams at the Drishti IAS Academy, lambasted owners of the institutes.
“The maintenance in 99% of the coaching institutes here is zero. They are worried only about business,” he said.
Overcrowded classes are common in Mukherjee Nagar. It is no surprise that students are demanding live broadcast of classes inside the institutes to know the reality of coaching centres. Sanskriti IAS Institute has now been sealed by Authorities.
“I am taking Staff Selection Commission (SSC) coaching at KD Campus. Their classes are overcrowded. More than 600 students attend a class. We can’t see the teacher and can listen to him only on LED. If you want a seat in the front row, then you need to go three hours before the scheduled class and stand in queue. It’s like an online class,” an SSC aspirant expressed his agony.
Patriot visited Sanskriti IAS Institute’s head office but it was shut down after the incident. The day after the incident, two operators of the institute — Shivesh Mishra and Shyam Sunder Bharti — were arrested by police and later released on bail.
EASY SET UP
Christopher Phoenix is a famous coaching institute in Mukherjee Nagar, giving classes for SSC and similar exams. It is located near the site of the incident.
Its owner blamed the system and revealed that a nexus has emerged which makes starting an institute a very easy task.
“This incident is unfortunate and painful. The entire system is responsible for it. There is a nexus. From Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) to police, everyone has failed. That day too, the fire service came in late. There are no rules here. If you want to start coaching here, contact a dalaal. He will find you a building and you can start,” said Christopher, the owner.
“There are no proper exits and safety equipment in the coaching institutes. You can see the situation of the buildings for yourselves. All the windows are shut because of the banners. Also, students should demand and check the infrastructure of coaching just like they check PG for accommodation. We should also initiate an awareness programme about students’ safety. In my institute, we have more than 2,000 students but there are three exit points, so no safety problems. The government is responsible for these incidents.”
The business of coaching is growing day by day in the country. According to an estimate by Infinium Global Research, a consultancy firm from Pune, the current revenue from the coaching industry in India is Rs 58,088 crore. It is expected to increase to Rs 1,33,995 crore by the year 2028.
A day after the incident, on Friday, the Delhi High Court took suo motu cognisance of the incident. A vacation bench issued notice to authorities and directed them to file their responses within two weeks.
A senior police officer released a statement in the media that during inquiry it was found there were no appropriate fire security measures, and no water in tanks on the building’s roof. The owners did not have No Objection Certificate (NOC) or clearances to run the centre. Besides this, the fire hydrants installed in the building were not in working condition.
Patriot also approached the Mukherjee Nagar police station.
Station House Officer Kishore Kumar told Patriot, “As per our record, a total of 69 students have been injured. Two operators have been arrested. The inquiry is in its initial stage and ongoing, but surely some negligence was there.”