Although Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) is the sanctioning authority of new building plans, it does not take the responsibility of fire safety in the new or yet-to-be constructed highrises in the city.
The onus of overseeing whether fire safety regulations in Kolkata highrises are followed to their letter and spirit lies with the state fire and emergency services department.
According to KMC’s Building Rules, 2009, getting written observations and no objection certificate (NOC) from state fire department are mandatory prior to starting the building construction. Documents from fire department need to be submitted along with the detailed plan of any G+4 building (with a 15.5 metre or more height) to get its construction sanctioned by KMC authorities.
“We are not experts on fire fighting and fire regulations that need to be complied with in highrises. So we only sanction plans for high-rises after the property developer submits the fire department NOC,” Debashis Chakraborty, director general (buildings) II told HT.
Also, any partly or fully non-residential building has to meet the mandatory provisions laid down by the state fire department, irrespective of its height.
Buildings Rule, 2009, has laid down rules for new constructions on a land spread over or on more than 500 square metres. It states that all of these plans must mandatorily be referred for clearance to the municipal buildings committee, which has state fire department as one of its members.
“We sanction any plan only after detailed discussion and debate at the level of this committee,” said a senior technocrat of KMC’s building department.
Any corner plots that have a road measuring over 9 metres on one of its side also require clearance from this committee.
After the building’s construction is complete, KMC has made it mandatory for all highrise and commercial property developers to get a clearance certificate from the fire department. It is after the fire department’s clearance that KMC would give the final clearance certificate, without which one cannot stay on the property or get water and drainage line connections.
Building underground water reservoirs and two staircases per building are other conditions that should be mandatorily fulfiled by all upcoming highrises, including residential and commercial buildings and shopping malls.
While these rules apply to the new constructions, fate of old ones, including the likes of Stephen Court and Nandaram Markets is yet to be decided by KMC authorities. In case of these two buildings, the state fire department is yet to give them clearance certificate for opening the restricted floors for use. Though the Stephen Court is partially open to residents and offices it houses, the 13-storeyed Nandaram market, which was devastated in the January, 2008, fire is completely shut till now.
Due to these rules, KMC officials say, it is losing out on the huge revenue it generates by licensing traders to operate in new commercial buildings and renewing old licence. “With licence for traders for many buildings not coming through, the civic exchequer is losing out on crores,” said a KMC official.