Loophole in building by-laws allows units to bypass fire safety in Delhi
Around 90% of units in industrial areas of Delhi lack fire safety norms – while a majority of them are exempted under building by-laws (their area is less than 250 sqm and, hence, require no clearance from the fire department) others openly flout the rules, senior officials in Delhi’s fire department said Saturday.
Saturday’s fire in Delhi’s Jhilmil that claimed three lives has put the focus back on fire safety norms, or the lack of them, in Delhi’s industrial areas.
Delhi Fire Services officials say department gets a large number of calls from industrial areas across the city. An official said in most cases, it is difficult to figure out whether the units are authorised or not.
Officials of the East Delhi Municipal Corporation said the factory in which the fire broke out on Saturday was exempted from a fire safety audit. Ranen Kumar, deputy commissioner, factory licensing department, EDMC, said, “ The factory had an area of 110 sqm and a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the fire department is not required for such units, as per norms.”
Around 90% of units in Delhi’s industrial area escape the ambit of fire safety norms by keeping their premises small, officials of the Delhi Fire Services said.
The former fire services director GC Mishra said, “For a long time, units in industrial areas did not come under any building by-laws. It was in 2010 that the by-laws were amended to ensure fire safety in these zones. But only units which have an area of 250 square metres or more were brought under its ambit.”
Mishra further said, “Due to this, fewer inspections happen in these areas and, as a result, several units which are required to get NOCs, too, flout the rules. The irregularities come to light only when an untoward incident happens.”
The result is that most industrial units end up having inadequate exit routes; basic firefighting tools are missing or absent; there is little or no ventilation; and a dozen other violations which may ultimately take a heavy toll, chief fire officer Atul Garg said.
Unauthorised units have also mushroomed in industrial area and residential localities in their peripheries, Pushpender Singh, office-bearer of a trade union in the Jhilmil Industrial Area, said. He said the authorised units in Jhilmil would number about 800, while a ground check would reveal that the area has over 10,000 units.
The industrial area has a large number of chemical factories, rubber factories, wire manufacturing factories, plumbing accessory units and hardware goods factories.
Singh said after the Bawana incident in 2018 — 17 persons had perished in a fire that broke out in a factory there — trade unions in Jhilmil had demanded that the labour department ensure safety of workers from fire, but nothing happened.
“Several industrial areas — some of them unauthorised — have flourished in the trans-Yamuna region and have now become ‘high priority zones’ for us. Apart from Jhilmil, Shahdara, Vishwas Nagar, Seelampur and Gandhi Nagar, too, have clusters of unauthorised units. Most of them have built extra floors or occupied free spaces around their units and/or leased them out,” Garg said.