Delhi and Mumbai are tinderbox cities. They must strengthen fire and safety regulations
While the blame for this flouting of rules mostly lands on the owners of these buildings, the question of how these buildings became operational in the first place without the complicity and knowledge of the regulatory authorities must also be addressed.editorials Updated: Jan 21, 2018 19:55 IST
According to the Mumbai Fire Brigade, less than 1% of the nearly three lakh buildings in the city are fire compliant. This includes not just restaurants and shopping malls, but also educational institutions, housing societies, and commercial complexes. After the recent Kamala Mills fire, the issue of fire safety in buildings must be treated with urgency, and not just in Mumbai. The situation is no different in Delhi. The recent sealing drives in markets that have flouted building norms and regulations are a case in point. Many shops and restaurants have been found to have changed sanctioned layout plans and increased their Floor Area Ratios. Some have narrow staircases and no proper fire exits, which together could cause a minor accident to become a major disaster.
While the blame for this flouting of rules mostly lands on the owners of these buildings, the question of how these buildings became operational in the first place without the complicity of regulatory authorities must also be addressed. Ensuring that buildings such as educational institutions, commercial complexes, and even housing societies are compliant with fire safety norms is one of the fundamental jobs of an administration. The lackadaisical attitude of the administration is revealed by a Comptroller and Auditor General of India report that found that 78% of the budget allocated to buy fire safety equipment and rescue vehicles was unused in Maharashtra between 2010 and 2015.
The responsibility of getting these clearances may lie with the owners of these buildings, but the fact that so many exist and are functioning shows that the system of certification and checks is flawed. If Delhi and Mumbai, in terms of regulatory mechanisms, were to be extrapolated to Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, the scenario appears grim. From Delhi’s Uphaar tragedy in 1997 to 2017’s Kamala Mills fire, authorities appear to have done nothing in two decades. Much more attention will have to be paid to the issue of building regulations and safety norms, if our cities are to remain viable.