India: Death toll in Surat coaching centre fire rises to 20

Police file culpable homicide case against three people as officials say students accounted for all those killed.

    Firefighters try to control a major fire in a building housing a tutoring centre in Surat [AFP]
    Firefighters try to control a major fire in a building housing a tutoring centre in Surat [AFP]

    Police in India said they have filed a culpable homicide case against three people as the death toll from a building fire in the city of Surat in Gujarat state rose to 20, with students attending coaching classes accounting for all those killed.

    Satish Sharma, Commissioner of Police in Surat, told reporters on Saturday 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.

    "The fire started near the staircase, so they could not get down," Joint Commissioner of Police Harikrishna Patel said, adding that all of the dead were younger than 20.

    Some eyewitnesses and families of the victims have alleged fire officials were slow to arrive, according to Reuters news agency's 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.

    At least 16 of the dead are female students. Television footage broadcast on Friday by local media showed people jumping off the top floor of the Takshashila Arcade building or trying to escape by climbing down, as thick smoke billowed out.

    Jayesh M Patel, medical officer at Surat Municipal Institute of Medical Education and Research, told AFP news agency that at least three people died from injuries after they jumped from the building. 

    Initial investigations showed the fire, which broke out in the stairway of the multi-storey arcade building, was caused by a short circuit, according to local media reports.

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    Chief Minister Vijay Rupani ordered an inquiry and asked Mukesh Puri, principal secretary of the urban development department, to submit a report within three days.

    Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter he was thinking of the bereaved families.

    "Extremely anguished by the fire tragedy in Surat," Modi said. "May the injured recover quickly," he said, adding he had instructed authorities to help those affected.

    Building fires are common in India because of poorly enforced safety regulations.

    SOURCE: News agencies