Patronise only those buildings that are fire safe : The Tribune India

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Patronise only those buildings that are fire safe

Patronise only those buildings that are fire safe

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Pushpa Girimaji

The Gujarat High Court’s recent outburst over the state government’s failure to follow its earlier orders on fire audits and fire prevention reflects the collective anger and frustration felt by citizens over the continuing neglect of fire safety in public buildings around the country. The series of devastating fires that took a heavy toll last month has, in fact, brought into question the state administrations’ ability to enforce fire safety laws and protect consumers.

Be it the amusement facility at Rajkot, where 28 persons were charred to death because the administration allowed it to make money at the cost of consumers’ safety, or the private neonatal care hospital in Delhi, that fleeced even the poorest of the poor, no one paid attention to their safety. What is apparent is the complete disregard for fire safety laws by those who are supposed to comply and those who are supposed to enforce them. The victims are, of course, the consumers of these services.

In a desperate bid to rectify such enforcement failures, consumers often seek judicial intervention or sometimes, the court itself takes up the matter suo motu, as the Gujarat High Court did following the gaming centre tragedy. What really irked the court was that in response to a PIL filed in 2020 following a series of hospital fires in the state, it had given detailed directions on ensuring fire prevention and protection of life and property.

Yet, the Rajkot civic authorities had ignored the court’s directions and allowed the amusement centre to function and flourish without a fire safety certificate. Going by preliminary reports, the fire was inevitable, and so also the deaths, because the temporary tin walls were covered with highly inflammable plastic foam sheets as shadow walls. More combustible material, including petrol and diesel, was stored on the premises, but there were no fire alarms, fire extinguishing systems and escape routes!

As usual, the government woke up after the fire and the resultant checks of gaming centres in Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Rajkot and Surat showed the extent of lawlessness — as many as 19 recreational facilities were shut down after inspections for not having the required permissions and fire NOCs! But this is the usual practice everywhere in the country — following a major fire, the authorities suddenly spring into action and, nudged by courts, they start hauling up offenders. But once the tragedy moves away from the media glare and the courts’ scrutiny, everything is forgotten and violations continue, till the next tragedy!

Following the devastating Kumbakonam (Tamil Nadu) school fire, the Supreme Court had in 2009 directed all states and UTs to ensure that all schools strictly complied with the National Building Code of India, particularly Part IV — Fire & Life Safety, and the Code of Practice of Fire Safety in Educational Institutions, formulated by the Bureau of Indian Standards. But, even today, PILs are being filed in state high courts to ensure compliance with the apex court’s order.

Now, in the aftermath of the deadly fire at the Baby Care Newborn Hospital in East Delhi, that robbed six couples of their babies, the Delhi High Court has taken up two petitions seeking directions to the government to conduct regular, comprehensive fire safety audits of small and medium-sized nursing homes and ensure that they have adequate facilities for fire prevention, life safety and fire protection measures. There were as many as 340 nursing homes with expired registration, a petition said.

One can imagine the quality of registration from the fact that the neonatal hospital had no clearance from the Fire Department, no smoke detectors or sprinklers, no fire exit, nor any provision for safe storage of highly combustible oxygen cylinders!

Since corruption in the enforcement process and administrative apathy and sloth are the major hurdles to fire safety, consumers/citizens must demand transparency and accountability in the enforcement process through Citizens’ Monitoring Committees that would regularly evaluate and assess the implementation of the law. In addition, it should become mandatory for every district administration to publish on their websites the complete list of public buildings in their area and whether they have fire NOCs or not. Establishments that do not have fire clearance or do not renew their certificate should be shut down.

It should also become mandatory for every public/commercial building to display prominently at the entrance, the fire safety certificate and the fire exits. This way, consumers can patronise only those buildings that are fire safe. Residents’ associations would also do well to check on schools, hospitals, restaurants, malls, etc, in their area for fire safety.

#Gujarat


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