Delhi’s tony restaurants too are fire disasters waiting to happen
Loopholes in a law governing restaurants, their faulty structural designs and absence of mandatory security apparatus has made these joints even in upscale areas vulnerable to tragedies.Updated: Dec 29, 2017 23:18 IST
Violation of fire safety norms, illegal extensions and a narrow entry are some of the reasons being attributed to the fire tragedy in Mumbai’s Kamala Mills that killed 14 people.
When it comes to scant regard for safety rules, Delhi’s restaurants and pubs are no different and, therefore, are equally vulnerable to fire accidents, experts and officials said. The national Capital had its tryst with what such criminal indifference could cause in the Uphaar Cinema fire tragedy, in which 59 people were killed.
Loopholes in a law governing restaurants, their faulty structural designs and absence of mandatory security apparatus has made these joints even in upscale areas such as Connaught Place, Khan Market and Hauz Khas Village vulnerable to tragedies.
According to Atul Garg, chief fire officer, Delhi Fire Services, the existing law does not even require eateries with seating capacity for less than 50 persons to obtain a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the fire department.
Several joints exploit this rule by claiming they have fewer seats, but they serve to packed capacity, said a deputy commissioner of police.
“Some owners tweak the law by running their restaurants from multiple floors in the same building – showing they abide by the 50 seating rule. But the floors are connected by a narrow and steep staircase. That staircase is the sole escape route in an emergency,” said the DCP.
“In many restaurants that have the NOC, the emergency exits are often locked. Fire extinguishers are difficult to spot. The restaurant staff is not trained to use the extinguisher or help their guests in an emergency,” said an assistant divisional officer of DFS.
According to a news report last year, the then Lieutenant Governor, Najeeb Jung, had given a go-ahead to the amendment to the Delhi building bylaws, but it never happened. So, in Delhi, barely 400 restaurants with a declared seating arrangement over 50 have the NOC to run.
“Hauz Khas Village has 70-80 restaurants and most of them accommodate over 50 people, but only four of them have fire NOCs. The number of such establishments is nearly the same in Khan Market. The situation is better in Connaught Place where 114 restaurants and pubs have NOCs,” said Garg.
Naresh Kumar, chairman of New Delhi Municipal Council, said a team was constituted late last week to conduct “secret and surprise checks” at restaurants and pubs flouting the law in markets in the Lutyens’ Zone.
In any case, most of the buildings from which the restaurants operate were never designed to serve as eateries, said Arunava Dasgupta, head of urban design at School of Planning and Architecture.
“There spaces are retrofitted. For example, many of them are not equipped to run commercial kitchens. In an emergency, guests would have no exit. The overall structure cannot be changed now, but the constraints should be dealt with,” said Dasgupta.
He said the buildings in Hauz Khas Village were most dangerous due to different designs of all structures there. “There has been ad-hoc construction in the village. Multiple builders were involved. So, the vulnerability there is greater (compared to Khan Market and Connaught Place),” said Dasgupta.
In a recent report submitted in the Delhi High Court, the police had noted that in Hauz Khas, there was insufficient space even to allow a fire tender to turn back.
Garg also singled out pubs and discotheques in the city as the most dangerous of the vulnerable lot. “There is usually a single entry and exit point and that is often restricted for commercial and security reasons. The light is dim, music is loud and most guests are drunk there. So, there is a high chance of stampede and casualties,” said Garg.
The new year revelry will again see packed pubs, discotheques and restaurants packed. “The owners will look to do maximum business. But they will need to ensure safety or else they will be left without a business,” said Atul Bhargava, president of the New Delhi Traders Association.