A star hotel’s credibility drowns

In all the glitz and glamour surrounding star hotels, visitors often forget that they are powerless to assert their rights when something goes wrong.

That was the predicament of guests who had paid Rs.2999 or so per couple, to ring in the New Year, 2008. The story of a flimsy temporary floor at Hotel Savera in Chennai caving in and sending guests into the swimming pool below is now on national television. At least one person is stated to have died as of New Year morning.

Television channels had footage of angry guests questioning the hotel management for their greed and failure to ensure safety, and the guests being assaulted by police requisitioned by the hotel management. If it is true, as it is likely to be considering our overall approach to policing, the men in uniform have behaved as nothing short of lawless mercenaries.

Many guests were understandably outraged that the media in general glossed over the details of the hotel’s role, starting with the identification of the hotel itself. ndtv.com’s report was greeted by jeering comments about the reticence of the media to identify the hotel, and likening the incident to the Uphaar cinema tragedy. We are all aware of how the courts have dealt with the Uphaar tragedy, handing down jail sentences to businessman Gopal Ansal and even to the government functionaries in-charge of statutory clearances. In the case of the Savera hotel incident, the Chennai Police also appear complicit because they assaulted the already traumatised guests, when they should have afforded protection and enforced the law.

What is the role of the statutory agencies and the tax departments? Was there any audit of how the ticket sales were made and do they know even today, how many tickets were actually sold?

Will the rating agencies for hotels now strip Savera of its stars, until they complete an investigation?

Those among the guests who are determined to get to the bottom of this can actually use the Right to Information Act, to ask for the records about the incident from various Government agencies, particularly those involved in licensing.

Because of the death of at least one person, this is a story that is bound to snowball. It is too difficult even for PR and advertising professionals to now push under the carpet. Of course, they will try and it will be a test for media ethics.

Update: On Wednesday, The Hindu reported the death of 23 year old Sumit Agnihotri, a software engineer hailing from Uttar Pradesh, in the Hotel Savera New Year floor collapse. The New Indian Express has a photo essay of the disaster. I hope this is a permalink to the feature.

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