Mumbai fire kills 4: Greed makes builders and authorities cold towards regulations

Undoubtedly ignorance of how to react in case of a fire (strong reason for drills to be mandated in schools, colleges and periodic practice in buildings) would be a big reason why lives were lost.

mumbai Updated: Aug 24, 2018 00:51 IST
Ayaz Memon
Ayaz Memon
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Parel,fire
Undoubtedly ignorance of how to react in case of a fire (strong reason for drills to be mandated in schools, colleges and periodic practice in buildings) would be a big reason why lives were lost.(FILE)

Four people lost their lives in the fire that broke out in 16-storey Crystal Tower at Parel on Wednesday. But for the presence of mind of 10-year-old girl Zen Gunratan Sadavarte, who used fire safety training learnt at school, the toll could have been four to five times higher.

By definition, an accident is “an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally and usually results in harm, injury, damage and loss’’. What caused the Crystal fire is still unclear, but from sundry facts available, it would be a travesty to call this an accident.

Undoubtedly ignorance of how to react in case of a fire (strong reason for drills to be mandated in schools, colleges and periodic practice in buildings) would be a big reason why lives were lost. But the fundamental problem is clearly the cavalier manner in which the building came up.

Going by reports carried in Hindustan Times no Wednesday, the builder had made flats in the refuge areas, some in the parking area on the first floor, the space allotted for a gymnasium on the terrace: in effect, every available square foot was sought to be exploited for greater monetary gain.

Compounding this were alterations made by flat owners residents, including those to beams and pillars and enclosing the hanging eaves outside the flats that could otherwise have been useful in case of a fire or some such calamity.

Worse, fire safety compliances hadn’t been met in the six years since flat owners had moved in. While there was a fire fighting system in place, it was not working. All this suggests that the construction of the building was technically incomplete, yet it had got an Occupation Certificate (OC).

Moot question is how and why an OC ratifies a project if there are crucial loose ends still to be tied up? On what basis is this certificate provided? What are the safeguards for occupants, and who is responsible for ensuring these?

Builders will hype fancy lifestyle aspects in a project — a pool, gym, lounge area et al, but few brochures talk about fire safety provisions. And flat buyers, out of ignorance or blind trust, hardly raise these issues when they strike a deal.

In fact, flat buyers are always impatient to move in even if the project is incomplete. It is rare that buildings are completed on time, and given the cost of real estate in the city, imposes financial and other hardships that buyers want to beat.

On their part, shady builders are not averse to allowing flat owners to move in prematurely as this gets them the full price of the flat before completion of project. The more inscrutable among them use the OC to convince buyers of the ‘legality’ of the situation.

They allow major alterations in this period to induce full payments from buyers that can end up with dangerous and terrible consequences. In the case of Crystal, there was a fire, in so many other cases, portions of building or even the entire edifice has come down.

Only a few months ago, a fire in Mojo’s Bistro in Kamala Mills claimed 13 lives, all because of illegal alterations made in the restaurant. Now four lives have been lost in the Crystal fire because of neglect from all quarters.

Greed is at the crux of this problem. This leads to flouting of rules and even basic safety norms. Since the processes of getting permissions, clearances etc is mired in so byzantine fine print and paper work, the rigour for upholding regulations is bypassed with impunity

Accountability for loss of life and property, therefore, remains indeterminate or is lost in hurly -burly of everyday life. Till another tragedy strikes. Should it be this way, is life in Mumbai so cheap and so easily dispensable?

Time for an awakening Mumbaikars!

First Published: Aug 24, 2018 00:49 IST