The state fire and civil defence minister, Jaaved Ahmed Khan, warned of a crackdown within three months on those who failed to comply with the revised fire safety norms that are being prepared by a nine member committee appointed after the AMRI tragedy in December last year.
“Enough is enough. Either you comply with the fire safety norms or get ready to be penalised and jailed. Once the revised fire safety norms are in place there will be no looking back. We will start a crackdown immediately,” said Khan, while addressing an interactive session on ‘fire disaster management – issues and solutions’ organised by the merchants’ chamber of commerce.
Welcoming suggestions, the minister said, “We will urge owners of multistorey buildings, hotels and hospital authorities, shopping malls, secretaries and presidents of old market associations and industrialists, both large and small, to come up with suggestions so that the committee can relax or make the law stringent wherever necessary. But please don’t ask for any favours once the law is in place. We can’t allow you to do business at the cost of lives.”
Director general of the fire department, DP Tarenia, said that even though 80% of the hospitals have adhered to most of the guidelines issued to them after the AMRI incident, the rest are still continuing to function in a careless manner.
“There are around 50,000 to 1 lakh building in West Bengal that don’t follow any fire safety norms. We can register at least 10,000 cases every day but we generally don’t do it,” Tarenia said.
Given these statistics, the overcrowded prisons and overburdened police in the state, the minister failed to provide satisfactory answers when asked where arrested individuals would be kept.
“The state government can’t be held responsible for fire disasters. We have given you enough time. It is not that we don’t have any lacunae, but we are trying to plug them. The government can’t check on every building every time. You will also have to cooperate,” said the minister to chamber of commerce representatives.
He said that in the future it would be made mandatory for industries, hospitals, shopping malls and multistoried building to hire electricians with diploma’s from state universities to have their connections checked, monitor their fire fighting equipment at regular intervals and conduct mock fire drills. Talks are already on with the Calcutta University and Jadavpur University to introduce diploma courses on fire safety.
He said that the state is taking a number of steps, starting from buying modern firefighting equipment and vehicles, recruiting 2000 volunteers and setting up six new fire service stations in Kolkata.