Probing the dreadful fire in a Delhi hotel in which 17 people were killed on Tuesday, the Crime Branch has shifted its focus to investigating the possibility of a deliberate attempt at aggravating the fire inside the premises to settle an insurance claim by the owner, sources said.
"The owner had a huge debt of Rs 56 crore which they were unable to repay. Their hotel had not been doing well since last year and he had tried to sell it. The e-auction bid of Rs 27 crore did not materialize. The next auction bid was due on March 31," General Secretary of Delhi Hotels Mahasangh, Arun Kumar told IANS.
On the second day of its probe, the Crime Branch team visited the hotel along with forensic experts and two hotel general managers Rajinder Singh and Manager Vikas Kumar who were earlier arrested and are currently in two-day police custody.
"The team recreated the scene and corroborated the sequence and evidences, matching with the timings of the fire incident. They also quizzed Rajinder Singh and Vikas Kumar about theirs activities," said Additional Commissioner of Police (Crime) Rajiv Ranjan.
"The team also made an over 30-minute film with a high definition camera at all the inner part of the entire 435-yard area of the hotel from basement to top floor cafeteria and kitchen. We are in the process of checking whether the Arpit Hotel owners -- Rakesh Goel and Shardendu Goel-- applied for insurance of the property," ACP Ranjan said.
"The FSL experts also collected samples of burnt objects and also collected other technical evidences to check the gravity and frequency of flames that spread very rapidly through corridors from the first floor to envelop second, third and fourth floors, including the rooftop cafeteria," an FSL officer told IANS.
"We also took samples of ash from room number-109 located on the first floor from where the fire broke out. We collected the samples to establish whether it was a planned and a criminal conspiracy or it was an accident due to a short-circuit. The collected samples evaluation report will clear the exact picture," the officer said.
"The report will likely be available within 20 days, depending on the nature of investigation," he added.
"A preliminary investigation revealed that on the night of the fire, there were 12 hotel employees on duty. But instead of helping the guests, nine of the staff escaped after the hotel was engulfed in the fire," he said.
"It was found that some victims did dial the reception number to inform the manager about the fire, but there was no one to answer the calls. Manager Vikas Kumar came to know about the fire a little later, and he and other staff members immediately called the owner, Shardendu Goel, but he did not answer their calls. They informed the fire department at 4.35 a.m. -- over half-an-hour after the fire had already spread," the officer said.
"Instead of helping the guests, nine of the hotel staff, including Vikas Kumar, escaped, leaving 60 guests in the lurch. Most victims who were sleeping died due to suffocation," he said.