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Home / India News / Delhi fire: An explainer on why govt agencies are blaming each other

Delhi fire: An explainer on why govt agencies are blaming each other

Multiplicity of authority in Delhi, which is not a full state, is one of the biggest reasons why one agency can’t be held responsible for such incidents.

india Updated: Dec 09, 2019 16:04 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
A policeman stands near a building in north Delhi’s Anaj Mandi where 43 people were killed in a fire on Sunday.
A policeman stands near a building in north Delhi’s Anaj Mandi where 43 people were killed in a fire on Sunday.(Amal KS/HT photo)

The fire tragedy at north’s Anaj Mandi on Sunday, which claimed 43 lives, has once again highlighted the lapses in enforcement of existing norms by various government agencies, especially the North Delhi Municipal Corporation. The incident has led to a blame game between the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Centre and the Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government.

Here are some of the major lapses which led to the tragedy. First, the building was located in a residential locality where mixed land use (MLU) was permitted. As per the MLU norms, commercial activity is permitted only on the ground floor and the remaining floors should be used for residential purpose. Second, the industrial unit were operating without licence from either the municipal corporation or the Delhi government. Third, industrial units, especially polluting industries, are not permitted in residential areas. Fourth, the building didn’t have a No Objection Certificate from the Delhi Fire Services department, which is under the Delhi government. Fifth, the building didn’t have a building plan sanctioned by the local body.

Multiplicity of authority in Delhi, which is not a full state, is one of the biggest reasons why one agency can’t be held responsible for such incidents. Every time an incident occurs, there is blame game between various government agencies. For instance, factory licence is issued by the municipal corporation while the factory/industry has to be registered with the Delhi government.

Who is responsible for what?

The North Corporation is the main authority (as the area falls under its jurisdiction) to issue check on illegal factories/industries, misuse of property and enforcement of building byelaws.

North Corporation’s commissioner Varsha Joshi said on Sunday that the civic body had inspected the building last week. “The upper floors were found locked. The officer (licensing inspector) would have gone back next week and issued a show-cause notice to the owner, but the tragic incident happened,” she told HT.

While the inspection was done by the licensing official, there were lapses on the part of the corporation’s building department, said Shamsher Singh, former chief town planner with the municipal corporations.

Singh says that this property could have been sealed for misuse. “The building is located on a mixed land use road and commercial activity is allowed only on the ground floor. But in this case it appears that commercial activity was going on all the floors. In 2017, the Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee had ordered large scale sealing for misuse of property,” he said.

North corporation’s standing committee chairman Jai Prakash admitted that the owner of the building never took permission to use a residential building for “commercial purpose”.

As far as permission from fire department is concerned, property owners have to take permission Delhi Fire Services for using the building for commercial purpose. In this case, the building’s use was residential and the owner had not applied for any permission.

The Delhi government’s industries and labour departments couldn’t check on this unit, as it is “illegal”. According to senior government official, they can check on units which are registered with them.

Can industries/factories operate from residential areas?

Only household industries, which are non-polluting, can operate from residential area. Last year, the Centre had amended the Master Plan of Delhi-2021 to provide relief to household industries operating from residential areas by allowing nine people and 11 kW of power connection as against five people and five KW connection as per the previous plan. The clause was further amended to do away with the permission of Delhi government’s labour department and DPCC last month.

According to a senior North corporation official, “This unit didn’t fall under the household industries category.”

The Delhi government’s Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (DSIIDC) had prepared a list of 51,837 illegal industries operating in various parts of the city following Supreme Court orders and shared it with the three municipal corporations in June 2018. These “illegal industries” had to be closed.

Joshi informed that “600 such industries have been shut down” in North corporation’s jurisdiction.

What’s the status of Special Area redevelopment plan?

Union housing and urban affairs minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Sunday blamed the Delhi government for sitting over the Special Areas redevelopment plan, which was prepared by the North corporation and approved by the Delhi Development Authority’s technical committee and the corporation in March 2017. The plan, Puri said, was sent to the Delhi government for notification, but is yet to be notified.

“Despite providing all clarifications sought from time to time, the notification is still pending,” Puri said. There is no clarity till now as to why the notification has not been done.

The issue of special area redevelopment plan had come to the fore earlier this year when 17 people died in a fire incident at Arpit hotel. While the issue is raised every time such incidents occur, little is done to address the problems of special areas. In absence of a special area plan, there is rampant commercialisation and unchecked illegal constructions.

A senior municipal official said, “We can’t take action in the area as structures which have come up till 2007 are protected under the Special Provisions Act, 2017.” Municipal officials say that it is very difficult to tell which structure came up when.