How negligence turned 2017 into a fiery year for Mumbai
The Mumbai fire brigade sent notices to 4,592 buildings in the city for flouting fire norms between 2010 and 2016, but initiated action only against 14. A senior fire official said following up on every case was virtually impossible in the circumstances.mumbai Updated: Dec 30, 2017 23:04 IST
A common thread links the Saki Naka fire, the blaze at the upmarket La Mer building, and the recent Kamala Mills tragedy that killed 14. A blatant disregard for safety norms was seen in all the three fires, and many others that occurred in Mumbai through 2017.
Several structures, from slums, high-rises, restaurants, industrial units and studios to old buildings, witnessed massive fires this year – causing significant loss to life and property. Blatant violations of fire-safety norms have virtually turned the city into a tinder box, say activists and experts.
Ten days before the fire at 1Above, 12 migrant workers were killed when a major fire broke out in an illegal snack-making unit at Saki Naka, Andheri. Bandra’s La Mer building, where a blaze gutted part of a tenth-floor apartment, had a defunct fire-fighting system. Storage of gas cylinders and huge amounts of combustible material was identified as the cause of the massive fire at Behrampada slums in Badra, where 200-300 shanties were gutted. Fire safety guidelines were not followed even at the iconic RK Studios in Chembur.
Pratap Khargopikar, former chief fire officer of the Mumbai fire brigade, said the rising number of fires in Mumbai can be attributed to negligence on the part of the authorities, the increasing usage of combustible material, and defunct fire-fighting systems. “The national building code specifies the use of fire-retardant material for upholstery. Despite a stringent act being in place, no third party has been employed to check if all the norms are being followed. Similarly, buildings with glass facades pose a big challenge to fire safety,” he added.
According to the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act-2009, buildings should conduct fire audits twice a year – in January and July – and submit fitness certificates to the authorities. But few comply with these regulations, and the fire department is not very prompt at following through either.
The Mumbai fire brigade sent notices to 4,592 buildings in the city for flouting fire norms between 2010 and 2016, but initiated action only against 14. A senior fire official said following up on every case was virtually impossible. “With having to answer over 17,000 fire-related calls in a year, administrative work is relegated to the backburner,” he added.
Pankaj Joshi, executive director of the Urban Design Research Institute, said the need of the hour was to check if all remodelled buildings in the area complied with fire-safety norms. “Even though fire audits are mandatory, we do not know if they are undertaken regularly,” he added.