Tuesday night's fire at the Harekrishna Shopping Complex at 10 Number, in which property worth over Rs. 1 crore was gutted, goes to show how vulnerable small shopping clusters and markets in the congested areas of the city are to the spectre of fire.
After HT interacted with the officers looking after firefighting arrangements in the city and visited some congested areas of Bhopal , it became clear that this vulnerability is on account of many factors -- lack of awareness, shopkeepers unwilling to invest in basic fire safety equipment, poor maintenance of the few equipments that are already there and lack of a clear law under which action can be taken against those who ignore fire safety regulations.
At the Old City, the situation is worsened by the density of population, close proximity of buildings, little space for traffic movement ( a fire engine wouldn't even be able to enter several parts) and the haphazard mesh of overhead electric wires.
Naturally, Bhopal Municipal Corporation's key firefighter Sajid Khan is worried sick. "Here people and government officials don't know how to use even a basic fire extinguisher.
Not many know what they need to do in case of different kinds of fires,” he told HT. There exists a crying need to include fire safety lessons in the school curriculum in a major way, Khan added.
BMC fire officer-in-charge GC Bhawsar complains that the state doesn’t have a fire Act due to which “we cannot take action against the violators, despite serving them repeated notices (nearly 500 over last one year)”. He added: “The National Building Code has just fire safety norms, but it doesn’t specify what penal action can be taken against violators. We will soon communicate this to the state government to frame a comprehensive legislation in this regard.”