Arpit Palace fire: Karol Bagh a ticking time bomb as most buildings extended in violation of rules
Alarmed by the state of affairs in Karol Bagh — which has a mix of residential and commercial structures — Jain directed the fire services department to “immediately” conduct inspections of buildings in the area that have more than four floors and begin sealing of non-conforming properties.Updated: Feb 13, 2019 12:58 IST
It took urban development minister Satyendar Jain just 10 minutes of walking around central Delhi’s Karol Bagh on Tuesday to gauge that most buildings in the area were operating in “blatant violation” of structural regulations and safety standards.
On Tuesday, hours after a massive fire at a hotel in the congested Karol Bagh claimed 17 lives, traders and hotel owners, too, agreed that the area was a ticking time bomb.
Alarmed by the state of affairs in Karol Bagh — which has a mix of residential and commercial structures — Jain directed the fire services department to “immediately” conduct inspections of buildings in the area that have more than four floors and begin sealing of non-conforming properties.
“Almost every other building here are five- or- six-storeyed, whereas the building bylaws allow only up to four storeys. The rule also states that all these buildings should have parking, but it doesn’t appear that any of the building here has such a provision,” Jain said, adding that the fire department will give him a daily report on the number of buildings sealed in Karol Bagh.
According to Balan Mani, vice-president of Delhi Hotel and Restaurant Owners’ Association, Karol Bagh saw a retail and hotel boom over the last four decades. And the special status awarded to the area has just led to further commercialisation, traders maintained. Karol Bagh, Shahjahanabad (Walled City) and Sadar Paharaganj were declared as Special Area in the Master Plan of Delhi, 2021.
According to provisions of the Master Plan of Delhi, 2021, the civic agency (North Delhi Municipal Corporation) was supposed to prepare a special area redevelopment plan. While officials of the North corporation said they have prepared the plan, it is yet to be notified. In absence of development control norms, traders admit there are massive violations in buildings used for commercial activity.
“Karol Bagh has always been a Punjabi-dominated area and residents used to give portions of their houses on rent, mostly to Bengalis and South Indians. This changed from the Asian Games in 1982, when guesthouses were allowed in the area,” Mani said. Further, more people started residing in Karol Bagh as refugees from Pakistan started to put shops in the area while living in the adjacent Rajinder Nagar.
From having merely 20-25 guest houses in the late 1990s, Karol Bagh is now dotted with nearly 200 small budget hotels. “Technically, these lodging facilities are not ‘hotels’. They are guest houses where no kitchen can operate. But this has been our long standing demand that the rule be tweaked as almost all accommodations are running kitchens as many tourists arrive late and night and demand food,” said Mani, who is a second generation hotelier and restaurateur in Karol Bagh.
Arun Gupta of the Delhi Hotel Mahasangh said the fault lies with the municipal corporation and the Delhi Police, both of which are licensing authorities for hotels and restaurants operating in Karol Bagh, Paharganj and Rajinder Nagar. But none of these authorities follow up by asking for the completion certificates of these buildings.
“The annual fee for renewal of police and civic agency’s health trade licence is merely Rs 500. While most buildings have approved building plans, a majority of them do not take completion certificates from the civic agencies to avoid inspection of their buildings. So, the whole system is operating with just a one-time building plan approval and an annual licence renewal, which is nothing but an affidavit that needs to be submitted,” Gupta said.
Traders in the area said inspections by the MCD, police or the fire department has hardly taken place. “We hope Hotel Arpit Palace’s incident brings a change to the area. Buildings are made safer and fire norms are adhered to. Also, we hope the parking mess is resolved,” said Shruti Singh, a resident of Karol Bagh.