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Allahabad High Court grants bail to owner, manager of Hotel Levana Suites

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The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court has granted bail to the owner and manager of Hotel Levana Suites in the fire incident that claimed four lives and left seven injured on September 10 this year.

A Single Bench of Justice Dinesh Kumar Singh passed this order while hearing a Criminal Misc Bail Application filed by Rahul Agarwal and another co-accused.

These applications under Sections 439 CrPC have been filed seeking bail in FIR under Sections 304, 308, 420, 465 and 471 IPC, Police Station Hazratganj, District Lucknow.

Initially, FIR was registered under Sections 304 and 308 IPC at Police Station Hazratganj, District Lucknow Central (Commissionerate Lucknow) on a complaint of Sub-Inspector Dayashanker Dwivedi dated 5.9.2022 posted at Police Station Hazratganj, Police Commissionerate Lucknow.

Later on, Sections 420, 465 and 471 IPC were added against the accused-applicants during the course of the investigation of the said offence. The FIR came to be registered in respect of an unfortunate incident at Hotel Levana Suites, Lucknow on 5.9.2022 at around 7 AM.

The said hotel is owned by M/s Levana Hospitality Limited Liability Partnership Firm.

Co-accused-Pawan Agarwal and the accused-applicants, Rohit Agarwal and Rahul Agarwal are the owners/partners of the said hotel, whereas accused-applicant, Sagar Srivastava is the Manager of the aforesaid hotel.

Co-accused Pawan Agarwal has been granted anticipatory bail by a coordinate Bench of the Court order dated 19.10.2022.

The facts of the case are that on 5.9.2022 at 7 AM fire broke out in the Hotel Levana Suites. Fire is suspected to have originated as a result of a short circuit of electricity in the control room where computers etc. are installed on the ground floor.

The fire caused massive smoke accumulation inside the rooms of the hotel and unfortunately four persons, namely, Gurnoor Singh Anand, Sahiba Kaur alias Jasmeen, Savika Sant and Amaan Gazia alias Babi died because of asphyxia and seven persons were injured.

As per the allegations in the FIR, no arrangements for fire safety, emergency escape or entrance were made in the hotel and no arrangements were there for smoke to come out and also no such safety arrangement was to counter such exigencies.

It is also alleged that the hotel rooms were jammed with iron grills and thus, they could not be opened for the purpose of escaping the occupants of the rooms. During the rescue operation, firemen faced immense difficulty in cutting open the aforesaid iron grills in order to pave their way in.

It is further alleged that the gas cylinders were kept in the hotel premises in a very unsafe and reckless manner and even within the hotel premises, arrangement of electricity was also highly mismanaged. The owners of the hotel and the managers did not make proper arrangements for fire safety and emergency exit etc. There was every likelihood of the fire being spread to neighbouring areas.

It is further said that the owners and the Manager of the hotel had knowledge that such lapses and lack of arrangements would likely threaten life and safety of the people.

Accused-applicant Rahul Agarwal is in jail since 5.9.2022, whereas accused-applicants, Rohit Agarwal and Sagar Srivastava are in jail since 6.9.2022 respectively.

The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court has granted bail to the owner and manager of Hotel Levana Suites in a fire incident that claimed four lives and left 10 injured on September 5 this year.

Levana Hospitality Limited Liability Partnership is a Limited Liability Partnership Firm incorporated under the provisions of the Limited Liability Partnership Act, 2008, registered with the Registrar of Companies, Kanpur with an object of carrying out business of managing the hotels. The firm has at present three designated partners namely, Pawan Agarwal, Rahul Agarwal, Rohit Agarwal and three other partners, namely, Rashmi Agarwal, Sunita Agarwal and RR Civiltech Private Limited.

The firm is, inter-alia, operating one of its hotels in the name and style of ‘Levana Suites Hotel’ situated at 18 Madan Moham Malviya Marg, Hazratganj, Lucknow, where the fateful/unfortunate incident/accident took place on 5.9.2022.

The police, after completing the investigation, filed the charge sheet on 29.10.2022 under Sections 420, 465, 471 IPC and the cognizance was taken on 4.11.2022.

Counsels for the accused-applicants submitted that the building which houses the Hotel Levana Suites was constructed as per the layout plan sanctioned by the Lucknow Development Authority vide Permit dated 3.4.1985 by M/s Bansal Constructions.

Later on, on certain complaints, the Lucknow Development Authority cancelled the sanctioned plan vide order dated 4.10.1986, alleging that the layout of the office complex had been sanctioned on the land earmarked for residential purposes.

M/s Bansal Constructions filed a Writ Petition before the Court against the order dated 4.10.1986 passed by the Lucknow Development Authority.

The Court, vide interim order dated 16.10.1986 stayed the order dated 4.10.1986 passed by the Lucknow Development Authority and restrained M/s Bansal Constructions from raising any further construction while permitting to complete finishing of the construction already raised.

Finishing got completed as per the permission granted by this Court vide interim order dated 16.10.1986.

Thereafter, on the application of M/s Bansal Constructions, the layout plan was sanctioned by the Lucknow Development Authority vide Permit dated 20.7.1996 with a condition that the building should be converted into a residential building within a period of six months or the same shall be regularised.

Levana Hospitality Limited Liability Partnership purchased the said building in the year 2017 and after making certain internal divisions and renovations, started running the hotel in the name and style of ‘Levana Suites’.

The said hotel had been granted license and registration by the Lucknow Nagar Nigam, Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, Department of Food Safety and Drug Administration and Excise Department, Government of Uttar Pradesh.

The hotel was having ‘No Objection Certificate’ from the Fire Department dated 25.10.2017 and was periodically renewed after inspection of the hotel by the Fire Department vide its renewal certificate dated 16.2.2021 for a period of three years (from 16.2.2021 to 16.2.2024) with a note to construct additional staircase in the hotel.

As per the note in the renewal certificate, the construction of an additional staircase was conducted, but due to Covid-19 pandemic, it could not be completed.

The hotel was having No Objection Certificate dated 17.8.2017 from the office of the Deputy Director, Electricity Safety, Government of Uttar Pradesh and thus, it is submitted that the allegation of mismanagement of electricity installation, was absolutely incorrect.

The accused-applicants were running the hotel business and it is submitted that there could not have been any intention to commit any offence and all due care and caution were taken to run the hotel as per the required standard operating procedure.

Counsels for the accused-applicants further submitted that the invocation of offence against the accused-applicants under Sections 304 and 308 IPC are wholly erroneous.

Similarly, even if the allegations in the FIR and the charge sheet are taken on their face value, no offence under Section 420 IPC would be made out. There is no allegation of forgery or use of any document as a genuine document to constitute the offence under Sections 465 and 471 IPC.

On the other hand, Counsels representing the victims and the State have opposed the bail applications and have submitted that all the compliances/certificates, ‘No Objection Certificates’ and approvals have been obtained by keeping hand in gloves with the concerned authorities without the compliance on the ground.

The set back of the front and rear of the hotel is not as per clause 3.4.2, Chapter III of Urban Planning and Development Act, 1973. Even after inspection by the Fire Department, the authorities never took any action against the hotel and the accused-applicants.

The hotel was running without providing an extra staircase and there were iron grills/ windows of the hotel, which were very much in the knowledge of the accused-applicants that if someday fire breaks out, it would certainly cause bodily injury or death and, in fact what has happened on 5.9.2022 and, therefore, the offence under Sections 304 and 308 IPC has rightly been invoked against the accused-applicants besides other offences.

“I, therefore, find a little substance in the submission of the counsels for the accused-applicants that it may be difficult for the prosecution to sustain the charge under Sections 304 and 308 IPC.

There may have been some infraction of regulatory requirements to run a hotel, but that would not amount to the accused-applicants having been negligent or they failed to take due care of their guests or they had knowledge of a fire accident, which would result in death/injuries to the guests.

Considering the aforesaid facts and circumstances of the case and also the fact that the charge sheet has already been filed and the accused-applicants are in jail since 5.9.202 and 6.9.2022 respectively, I am of the opinion that the accused-applicants are entitled to be enlarged on bail”, the Court observed.

The Court ordered, Let applicants Rahul Agarwal, Rohit Agarwal and Sagar Srivastava be released on bail in the above FIR/case crime number on their furnishing a personal bond and two sureties each in the like amount to the satisfaction of Court concerned with the following conditions :-

(i) The applicants shall file an undertaking to the effect that they shall not seek any adjournment on the dates fixed for evidence when the witnesses are present in court. In case of default of this condition, it shall be open for the trial court to treat it as abuse of liberty of bail and pass orders in accordance with law.

(ii) The applicants shall remain present before the trial court on each date fixed, either personally or through their counsel. In case of their absence, without sufficient cause, the trial court may proceed against them under Section 229-A of the Indian Penal Code.

(iii) In case, the applicants misuse the liberty of bail during trial and in order to secure their presence proclamation under Section 82 CrPC is issued and the applicants fail to appear before the court on the date fixed in such proclamation, then the trial court shall initiate proceedings against them, in accordance with law, under Section 174- A of the Indian Penal Code.

(iv) The applicants shall remain present, in person, before the trial court on the dates fixed for (i) opening of the case, (ii) framing of charge and (iii) recording of statement under Section 313 Cr.P.C. If in the opinion of the trial court absence of the applicants is deliberate or without sufficient cause, then it shall be open for the trial court to treat such default as abuse of liberty of bail and proceed against them in accordance with law.

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