While two incidents of blazes at Mantralaya in less than a year have shown just how safe a government office as important as the citadel of state power is, another high-footfall space in the city — the shopping centres — might be just as unsafe.
A survey conducted after the Mantralaya fire last year has found that of the 30 shopping centres and malls inspected by the fire brigade in the past four months, 29 were found to be compromising with fire safety.
Surveyed between October and February, these shopping centres have now been served notices for not complying with fire-safety norms on their premises. Of the 26 located in the suburbs, all were found to be fire traps. Only one shopping centre in south Mumbai was found to be equipped to tackle a fire emergency.
Following the Mantralaya fire on June 21, 33 fire stations spread across the city under the fire brigade, which is administered by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), began conducting inspections.
They inspected at least one building every week under their jurisdiction from mid-October, with high-footfall buildings and high rises being on the priority list.
HT had reported in its December 13 edition that only 13 of the 103 high-footfall buildings that were inspected till that time had submitted compliance reports after they were served notices.
However, no prosecution has been initiated against the owners of these buildings. While the fire brigade is empowered to initiate legal proceedings against building owners and occupants who violate fire-safety norms, fire officials say no action was taken because either the norms have been followed after the notices were served, or the notice period is yet to expire.
“After a notice is served, the owner is given up to 90 days, depending on the discrepancy, to adhere to safety norms. On the expiration of this time period, if it is found that norms continue to be flouted during a second round of inspection, prosecution is initiated by the BMC,” said a fire official.
While the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act, 2006, states that the responsibility to adhere to fire safety norms rests with the owner or occupants of the buildings, fire officials say that barely any building is found abiding by it.
“We are doing our job by conducting inspections and spreading awareness. But the owners and occupants must know that it is mandatory for them to conduct bi-annual fire audits and submit certificates to the fire brigade,” said Suhas Joshi, chief fire officer.