Decoding the flames: Why is Jaipur burning?

Rise in fire incidents in Jaipur in the recent years has forced the city’s people to demand a law on fire safety

jaipur Updated: Apr 15, 2018 21:45 IST
Nitika Kakkar
Nitika Kakkar
Hindustan Times, Jaipur
Rajasthan News
Firefighters douse a fire at Bais Godown in Jaipur. Repeated incidents of fire in the past few months in the city have kept the fire department personnel on their toes.(HT File)

The morning of January 14 in Vidyadhar Nagar area of Jaipur carried the usual haze that is a hallmark of winter months. The fog, however, was heavy with smoke and carried ash that was slowly settling in on the vehicles parked outside the houses.

The smoke was emanating from a two-storeyed independent house, or what was left of it. A massive fire had broken out at around 4 am burning the building to ashes. Along with the house, the inferno also claimed five lives. Mahendra Garg and his four grandchildren are believed to have had woken up and cried for help. By the time the help reached, three of them had been charred and two others died of suffocation.

The incident became a trigger for Kunal Rawat, a lawyer, who filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in Rajasthan High Court demanding that state government frame a law on fire safety. The petition also sought directions to strengthen the fire fighting measures, highlighting how Jaipur was running low on reserves so far as fire fighting paraphernalia is concerned.

“There is no fire fighting system in place the state. There is no Fire Act, no concrete norms, and no trained professionals. Daily wage workers are serving as firemen. How can an untrained professional handle fire,” asked Rawat.

In his petition, Rawat said several posts in the city’s fire department were lying vacant and employees were mostly hired on a contract basis. It said that had the department been alert and equipped with the requisite fire-fighting machinery and equipment, the tragedy at Vidhyadhar Nagar could have been avoided.

He had filed the PIL on January 23 and the HC sought a reply from the state government on measures being taken by it to avoid incidents of fire like the one that took place in Vidhyadhar Nagar on January 14.

The fire at Vidhyadhar Nagar occurred three days after a marriage venue in the city was burned to ashes. Rose Garden was sealed after the fire and a committee was constituted to probe into the incident and form guidelines to avoid fire at marriage venues. Although the report was supposed to be tabled in a week, it has still not been released.

Last month another marriage venue, Mysore Palace, caught fire for the second time. There were major incidents of fire earlier this month at Vishwakarma Industrial Area, Mansarovar and Sodala as well. A fire broke out at a mall, once again in Vidhyadhar Nagar, on April 12.

Making matters difficult: No fire Act

With repeated incidents of fire in the past few months, the fire department has remained particularly busy. Whether it was the blaze that gutted Rose Garden, or the multiple incidents reported at VKI, Mansarovar and Sodala last month, the department has constantly been on its toes.

But this doesn’t seem new. As per the department’s records, there were 2,533 incidents of fire in Jaipur in 2015-16. This increased to 3,050 in 2016-17. While data for 2017-18 is yet to come in, chief fire officer (CFO) Jalaj Ghasiya estimates it to be close to the previous year’s numbers.

Despite such high number of fire incidents being reported from one district alone, there is no law setting basic guidelines and norms for the fire department. Jaipur fire department claims that they have written to the government regarding this. Ghasiya says lack of a governing law makes matters worse for them on ground. “If there are set norms or guidelines then we can function according to them. But since that is not the case, we have to function as per our own judgement. Many people question our actions and create hindrance while we are trying to douse the flames. With norms or guidelines in place, we will also have protection,” he said.

What triggers the spark?

As per Ghasiya, “98 per cent of the fire incidents are caused by short circuit.” He says that most fires occur due to incorrect wiring or excessive load on the circuit. Negligence towards this sensitive aspect and the electricity department’s alleged incompetency to carry out their duties is making things difficult for the fire department, he says.

The lack of a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) from the fire department was cited as another reason. It is mandatory for any building with a height of over 15 metres in the city to obtain an NOC from the fire department before a permit is issued for construction. “Most buildings procure a temporary NOC so that they can obtain permit from Jaipur Development Authority (JDA) for constructing the building. Once the building is constructed, they don’t bother to get a permanent NOC,” former CFO Ishwarlal Jat says.

Ghasiya says only 10-15 per cent of buildings in the city have a permanent NOC. “Most of these are malls. Majority of residential buildings do not have one,” he said.

From 2016 till date, the department received 212 applications for NOC. Out of these, 60 were sanctioned, while a decision on 152 is still pending. In order to make the process easier and paper-free, the department started the initiative of online NOCs last year. The first online NOC was issued in December, 2017. “So far, we have received 200 online applications, out of which we have sanctioned over 30 NOCs,” Ghasiya said.

He says in most cases, people apply for NOC without putting in place necessary fire fighting infrastructure. “They apply for an NOC but when we reach the site on inspection, they often do not have the required fire-fighting equipment or they do not match up to the norms. So we issue them a note stating what they lack in, and tell them to rectify it and approach the department again,” Ghasiya says.

Response to a fire-call

Ghasiya said that the fire-stations’ average response time to a fire call is 1 to 2 minutes. As the fire helpline number 101 receives a number of fake and prank calls, a substantial amount of the response time goes in ascertaining the authenticity of the call. “A verification callback is carried out in all the cases to ascertain whether the call was genuine or fake. As our staff is experienced and can recognize a fake call, it becomes clear to us whether to proceed or not,” he says.

There are many areas in the city where it is not possible for the fire tenders to enter. In such a scenario, a water relay system is used. “Smaller cars are sent into lanes or by-lanes. These cars have hoses that can be connected to the fire tenders, which are positioned as close as possible,” Ghasiya says.

He says the department has submitted a fire plan for market areas such as Purohit Ji ka Katla to Jaipur Smart City Limited, and is waiting for its approval.

Shortcomings

While the department agrees that there is a need for more personnel, equipment and vehicles, they say it is more important for them to have detailed information about various areas in the city. With 13 industrial areas in Jaipur, the department says they should be updated with data regarding the kind of chemicals or potentially dangerous material being used in these areas.

Such information will help the department to be better prepared and avoid an incident like the one which took place in Vishwakarma Industrial area (VKI) in March.

First Published: Apr 15, 2018 21:45 IST