The state is playing with fire as far as its capability to fight major infernos is concerned, says a government report.
A report prepared by the Directorate of Maharashtra Fire Services — the state government’s official adviser on fire safety issues — states how more than one-third of the urban and semi-urban areas in the state do not have dedicated fire-fighting services.
Despite Maharashtra’s reputation of being the most urbanised of all states in the country, 106 cities and towns of the 350 in the state do not have a fire services wing, according to the report tabled in the recently concluded budget session of the state legislature.
The bad news does not end there.
The towns and cities that do have fire services wings are severely deficient in manpower, personnel and equipment.
In addition to these glaring inadequacies, a recent reply by the Ministry of Home Affairs in Parliament shows the situation is equally grim in rural areas.
According to the MHA’s reply, Maharashtra comes in second in the list of states and Union territories with a shortage of fire-fighting equipment.
It requires 20,048 pieces of suitable equipment to fill the gap.
This is significant, coming in the wake of the recent tragedy at the Paravur Puttingal temple in Kerala’s Kollam district, which killed more than 100 people and left many injured.
The most crucial of this equipment, however, is the severe paucity of fire engines. Despite the state’s vast expanse — it is the third-biggest in the country — the state has one of the lowest number of fire engines plying in the state.
It has only 504 fire tenders, which is paltry when compared to smaller states.
Odisha, for instance, has 669 fire-tenders, while Tamil Nadu has 1,137 engines plying.
The inadequacy isn’t with equipment alone.
The same reply, on a question by Rajya Sabha Member PL Punia, shows a shortage of manpower, which has severely dented the fire-fighting capabilities of service wings.
In rural areas, the state faces an acute shortage of 26,601 personnel for its fire-fighting capacities to fully function. Similarly, in urban areas, this figure is pegged at 21,478.
An official from the urban development department said the discrepancy was higher also because many smaller towns were still developing.
“Many of their local bodies don’t have the capacity required to operate even basic services and hence, for them, operating a fire-fighting service is not just cost-intensive, but also logistically difficult,” he said.
Maharashtra Fire Services director MV Deshmukh, when asked to comment on his department’s report submitted to the government, said he would respond after studying the data in detail.
MV Deshmukh, director of Maharashtra Fire Services, admitted there were deficiencies, but also said that a planned process was in place to meet them. “As part of this ongoing process, in the past three years, we have established 100 new fire services. Smaller cities are plagued with numerous issues like lack of land, funds and sometimes, even the lack of adequate water. We are now pushing the Centre for more funds to deal with these issues.”