The Mumbai fire brigade is investigating the cause of the Kalbadevi blaze that brought down a building and killed two senior fire-fighters, the civic body has formed a seven-member committee to find long-term measures for fire safety in old buildings, but will this make a difference?
In the past five years, the civic body has been prompt in setting up inquiry committees following fire accidents, but the findings of these committees are implemented poorly, resulting in more buildings falling prey to fires.
For instance, after the 2010 fire at a Borivli shopping centre that killed one fire-fighter, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) decided to inspect shopping centres. The committee pointed out blatant violations, such as poor ventilation and no sprinklers inside shops. Five years on, not much has changed. Old shops and complexes still lack basic fire-fighting equipment, many have constructed mezzanine floors to add space, the fire detection systems are rudimentary and fire exits are either blocked or don’t exist.
Three years ago, after the Mantralaya fire, the BMC woke up to the need to fire-preparedness in heritage structures. A sub-committee under the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC) was set up. So far, only three such structures – the Old Customs House, Bombay high court and Mantralaya – have been audited.
“The fire department has long been complaining about a manpower shortage. It’s time the BMC understood the severity of the issue and overhaul the system,” said Pankaj Joshi, MHCC member and urban planner.
Adding to the woes of the department is that fire-fighters are not given a route map when they enter a blazing building. The Merani committee report, prepared in 2009 after the Retiwala Industrial Estate fire, suggested the building’s plan be submitted to the civic body. This has not been implemented yet.