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If basic safety protocols fail - you can go to jail

Fire accidents have become too frequent of late and points to lack of preparedness, understanding and negligence of the people at large. No attention seems to have been given to the strict guidelines of the NBC right from the construction stage. Even after that, the degree of blatant disdain for laws, norms and fire safety protocols only comes to light when a tragedy occurs and worst fears are realized. By then, it is too late.

The New Year has seen two major fires already in residential buildings in Mumbai. A fire broke out in a building near Hanging Gardens at Malabar Hill on Wednesday night (5th February, 2020). The fire was confined to the fifth floor of the 14 storey residential building. 12 fire tenders were rushed to the spot and the situation was brought under control. 18 people were rescued by the firemen. Earlier, a massive fire had broken out at Mehtab CHS building in Mumbai's Kurla West at around 10 pm on Friday, January 24th.  At least 18 houses in the two-storey building were gutted by that fire. Following the fire, 3-4 cylinder blasts also occurred making the incident more severe. At least seven fire tenders and six jumbo tankers had reached the spot after the incident. It took around three hours to bring the fire under control. 

Moving to the capital city of Delhi, one can hardly erase horrific memories of the four-story building in the cramped, commercial Anaj Mandi neighbourhood that was packed with sleeping labourers when a fire broke out. The fire that broke out at 5 am on the second floor of the building and was reported at 5:20 am and it took over 150 firefighters involving 50 fire engines nearly four hours to douse the blaze. Nearly 50 people succumbed there.

That area was a classic example of factories and small manufacturing units operating from old, cramped quarters and in blatant disregard for the fire safety and municipal norms. Less than 24 hours before the Sunday's blaze, a fire had broken out at the fourth floor of a similar illegal factory barely 200 metres away from that building. This is by no means confined to Delhi, or Mumbai but true about all major cities in India. It is because the town planners and municipal authorities –right down from their political masters and babus have given least priority to enforcing safety protocols and allowed the rot to set in where everyone is sitting in self constructed comfort zones of ignorance, negligence and rank illegality.

Meanwhile collective sins are coming home to roost with a domino effect already having been set into motion where area after area, without warning, continues to witness random fire accidents. Hapless victims have to deal with jammed extinguishers, jammed windows, crammed exit routes and lack of basic exigency tools like exit route lighting, signages, emergency exit options and almost anything that offers the poor trapped people a chance to get to safety in time.

After the damage is done, it is comfortable to blame it all on vague entities like the municipal authorities and the government and unrecognizable faces so that no one is pinpointed and gets to face the music. The authorities named are quick to pass bucks and know how to wriggle out every time.

But things have changed. Fire safety licenses are now mandatory for any construction nowadays- for business establishments as well as private residential buildings or societies. Accountability has to some extent, been fixed and people in high places are being jailed. The more recent Kamala Mills episode in Mumbai actually saw this happen after a long time.

People are beginning to realize that everybody down the line from the builder, the architect, the owner, the residents and even fire licensing bodies can be booked if fire accidents betray shoddy work at any stage. The laws have been toughened and the ‘chalta hai’ culture has come into serious question. And here on, things will get worse for offenders.