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One year after Kamala Mills blaze, has Mumbai learnt its lessons?

In the wake of the December 29, 2017 fire, the country’s richest civic body announced several measures, including changes to its policies to ensure fire safety in Mumbai.

mumbai Updated: Dec 28, 2018 08:16 IST
Eeshanpriya M S and Sagar Pillai
Eeshanpriya M S and Sagar Pillai
Hindustan Times
Kamala Mills,Kamala mills fire,Mumbai fires
The Kamala Mills fire in December 2017 killed 14 people.(HT File)

A year after a fire at two restaurants in Kamala Mills Compound at Lower Parel killed 14, are restaurants in the city safe for partygoers this New Year’s Eve? While the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and restaurant owners vouch by the safety measures, activists beg to differ.

THE ACTION, REACTION

The city has 5,000 restaurants. In the wake of the December 29, 2017 fire, the country’s richest civic body announced several measures, including changes to its policies to ensure fire safety in Mumbai. Jolted, owners of restaurants, pubs and bars realised the need to comply with the policy, while Mumbaiites came to terms with how unsafe public spaces could be.

In a knee-jerk reaction, for the first six months of this year, the fire brigade’s special fire compliance cell inspected 3,264 restaurants across the city, and found 1,395 of them to be fire non-compliant. Only 470 of them complied, while 390 non-compliant restaurants were demolished. Inspections carried out in the second half of the year, between August and October, showed an improvement in fire compliance. Of the 911 buildings inspected, 826 had complied with fire safety measures, and 84 were served notices. BMC’s audit of buildings in Kamala Mills in November, however, found several floor space index (FSI) violations, and missing refuge areas.

Municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta said, “BMC action improved compliance from establishments across Mumbai. Owners now fear legal action for failing to comply with the rules. This has led to greater awareness on field.”

IN PREP MODE

Earlier this month, owners and managers of restaurants at Kamala Mills met to decide rules for crowd and space management, and serving alcohol to partygoers on New Year’s Eve.

Abhishek Kapadia, manager of Poptates, a bar in the compound, said, “All restaurants decided to recheck if their fire exits were clear. We will make sure our restaurants are not crowded beyond capacity on December 31. Alcohol will not be served outside the premises.”

“Restaurants have been carrying out regular safety drills. Associations have asked them to be extra cautious as restaurants are more crowded on December 31, compared to other days,” said Gurbaxish Singh, president of Hotel and Restaurant Association of Western India.Also, officials from the G-South ward that covers Elphinstone Road, Lower Parel, and Worli are inspecting 250 restaurants, bars and pubs.

“During our inspection drive, we have found almost all restaurants are complying with fire safety measures. Of the 150-odd places inspected by us, two restaurants in Atria Mall in Worli were served notices for stocking up LPG cylinders on Tuesday,” said Devendra Jain, assistant commissioner of G-South ward.

City-based activist Godfrey Pimenta said, “Kamala Mills is not an isolated incident. There have been many incidents of fire even after that. We don’t see exceptional proactive measures taken by the BMC to curb fires. Their measures were short-term. People need to watch out for their own safety. For example, there is a hotel on the airport that has a diesel tank right under its building. BMC has sent notices to them, but nothing has changed.”

First Published: Dec 28, 2018 01:06 IST