Consumers pay the price for disregard of fire norms
The devastating fire in the Takshashila Arcade in Surat on May 24, killing 22 teenagers and injuring an equal number, provides another tragic example.Updated: May 27, 2019 04:07 IST
Whether it is Delhi or Mumbai, Jaipur or Surat, when it comes to fire safety, the story is the same — there is utter disregard for fire safety by those who are supposed to comply with the law, as well as those who have the responsibility of enforcing the law. And the victims are always the consumers. The devastating fire in the Takshashila Arcade in Surat on May 24, killing 22 teenagers and injuring an equal number, provides another tragic example.
The death and devastation caused by the inferno also focuses attention on the dismal state of ‘coaching classes’ around the country, often run in unsafe buildings, putting the lives of students at risk. In this case too, the coaching classes were being held in illegal, makeshift floors with a single entry and exit , made of wooden floors! And as usual, the violations came to light only after the tragedy!
On November 26 last year, a fire at another coaching centre in Surat claimed two lives, while on January 30 this year, 27 students at yet another tuition class on the first floor of a building in Ahmedabad had a narrow escape when a fire engulfed a mattress shop on the ground floor. As usual, checks following the incidents found major violation of fire safety laws by a number of coaching classes. But obviously, enforcement agencies did not crack the whip on all the violators, or else the coaching class at the Takshashila complex would have been shut down.
The students paid the price of the failure of the administration to enforce the law. The images on television screens of young boys and girls jumping out of the fourth floor of the building in a bid to escape the fire were too distressing, showing the failure of the fire services too to raise to the occasion. If only the fire services had reached out earlier or at least provided a safety net to catch those who were jumping out of the building , several lives could have been saved.
That also brings us to the inadequacy of fire services to fight these fires and the need for state governments to pay more attention to providing adequate trained personnel as well as firefighting equipment to deal effectively with fires.
Today, because of the nature of the interiors in many buildings, the fire spreads far more quickly , requiring fire services to reach the spot far more swiftly. And this requires more fire stations and fire tenders, with facilities to cater to high rises.
The police commissioner of Surat told a press conference on Saturday that he had ordered closure of all tuition classes till they got fire safety certificates and displayed it prominently at the entrance. I have for long been demanding that it should become mandatory for every public building in the country — including educational institutions, marriage halls, cinema halls, hotels, hospitals, shops, government and commercial buildings, to display prominently at the entrance, the fire certificate. Consumers can then shun those buildings that do not exhibit such certificates. In fact even now, consumers should demand that all service providers display fire safety certificates.
When it comes to educational institutions, parents often express helplessness, but they have to consider what is more important — the safety of their children or their education in unsafe buildings. Besides, when parents and parents associations start asking questions on fire safety, educational institutions will be forced to comply with the laws.
Since corrupt practices often impede stringent enforcement of building bye-laws and fire safety laws, it should become mandatory for all enforcement agencies to make public , the details of checks carried out on these buildings. It is also essential to have citizen representatives on the inspection teams to ensure transparency in the process.
First Published: May 27, 2019 04:07 IST