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Lesson 1 of 2018: Do not accept the unacceptable, Mumbaiites

The lessons city residents can learn from fire outbreaks, bridge collapses and other accidents

mumbai Updated: Jan 10, 2018 22:31 IST
Smruti Koppikar
Smruti Koppikar
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Kamala Mills Fire,Elphinstone Road Stampede
A view of the burnt down restaurant at Kamala Mills, in Mumbai on January 30, 2017.(FILE PHOTO)

There are many lessons to draw up from the outbreaks of fire, collapse of foot over bridges, and other accidents involving public amenities across the city recently. An important one, for citizens as well as the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, is this: There is a clear and present danger in accepting the unacceptable.

That businesses worth crores can run without adequate safety measures should be unacceptable. That high-end resto-bars can draw in swish customers without offering basic amenities such as emergency exits should be unacceptable. That a farsan factory doubles up as sleeping quarters for 20 of its workers, 12 of whom perished in a fire because they could not run out, should be unacceptable. That office-goers go out for lunch and are charred to death in a restaurant should be unacceptable. That old and overused bridges are allowed to be without safety checks should be unacceptable. That roads are constructed and re-constructed, but still have potholes which claim lives, should be unacceptable.

Yet, in the rhythmic rush of the city, each of these passes off as an accident which, when it happens, provokes outrage and media coverage – less for farsan factory workers, more for resto-bar revellers – some penal action by local ward offices, an inquiry or two, and court cases in which citizens’ interest tapers off after a while. If the outrage persists, officials are transferred or suspended. Then the state of affairs resumes its normal, criminally nonchalant and negligent, rhythm till the next major horrific accident happens.

It is morally reprehensible and completely unacceptable that the owners of the two resto-bars in Kamala Mills are absconding – whither the famed Mumbai Police machinery? – and trying to obtain anticipatory bail orders. It is equally unacceptable that municipal commissioner and the entire machinery that he commands allowed such serious transgressions of rules and requirements. Can citizens question Ajoy Mehta, hold him accountable? If not, why not?

It is unacceptable that the fire brigade continues to function the way it does, ignoring clear dangers across the city and unable to enforce its authority. The training and preparedness of the fire brigade personnel is perhaps inadequate, they are probably strapped for resources. The details about how the fire brigade personnel worked that night as mentioned by a Kamala Mills survivor, who lost his wife in the blaze, in a petition, are chilling. Why is the fire brigade in such a shabby condition? Why do we accept this as routine? That there were a staggering 4,790 instances of fire last year alone, as this paper pointed out, should drive us to action.

It is perhaps the unwillingness to accept the state of affairs that drove the 89-year-old Julio Ribeiro, former police commissioner and indefatigable activist for good governance, to the Bombay high court this week. He demanded that the BMC conduct a fire safety audit of all restaurants, hotels, bars and hookah parlours in Mumbai and submit the report to the court (he could have added small-scale factories to the list too). The last bit is important because BMC officers, according to Mehta, are either negligent or conniving with offenders. It is unacceptable that these officers continue in their positions.

We do not accept but what is the choice, is a familiar lament. Well, then, work the phones off their hooks in your local ward office; report irregularities to the nearest police station; find civic activists in your area – all parts of Mumbai have strong networks of activists – and team up on the next issue they address; do not patronise establishments that are clearly flouting law and rules, let your social circles know this too; form a group of your own and take up an issue that bothers you. Perhaps the fire safety norms in your building or the state of the pavement – if it exists – outside your building would be a good start. Do not accept what should be unacceptable.

First Published: Jan 10, 2018 22:31 IST