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Monday Musings: Is Pune waiting for a fire tragedy at pubs, eateries?

The Pune Municipal Corporation needs to take immediate action on fire department’s warning rather than wait for a tragedy to break out.

pune Updated: Apr 16, 2018 16:33 IST
Abhay Vaidya
Abhay Vaidya
Hindustan Times, Pune
In Decembers, last year, a restaurant at Kamala Mills in Mumbai was gutted in fire. The restaurant was found to have no fire safety measures in place.(HT File Photo)

On April 13, this newspaper carried a detailed report from the Pune fire brigade that 500 eateries, including pubs and restaurants were guilty of fire safety violations.

The report was based on a detailed interview with the city’s fire chief, Prashant Ranpise, in which he said that of the 550 eateries that were surveyed by the fire department, 500 were found to be violating fire safety norms.

The violations related to alternations made to the floor plan sanctioned by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), illegal expansion and unrestricted use of combustible material, including plastic.

Ranpise warned that this was extremely serious and at the same time bemoaned that his poorly staffed department was incapable of surveying all the restaurants in the city. Pune was urbanising and expanding rapidly from end to end, and he had just five fire station officers to do the job, instead of 15.

Having identified the violations, what will the fire department do next, he was asked. In a typical bureaucratic response, Ranpise said that these violators would be “issued notices”.

That, essentially means toothless bureaucratic action in which the pub or restaurant would be informed of the violation and asked to rectify and/or pay fines.

Tomorrow, if a Kamala Mills type fire breaks out at one of the Pune restaurants, killing any number of people as happened in the 1Above rooftop restaurant in Mumbai in which 14 were killed, the fire department would have its backside covered by pointing out that it had already done its job by issuing a notice.

Effective action would have meant that the PMC made its report public by identifying the violators and initiated demolitions in places where the violations were most serious.

Last year, Saurabh Rao, Pune’s district collector had ordered the closure of four pubs, including a rooftop establishment at Baner because of complaints from the neighbourhood community and the fact that all of them were located in a single commercial complex, called Deron Heights.

Rao had acted on the basis of complaints from the residents of Baner who pointed out to the fire hazard and nuisance caused by these establishments, and on the basis of recommendations from the police and fire departments. His order was however, over-ruled by the state excise commissioner Ashwini and the FL-3 or Permit Room licences of the liquor joints restored.

Ranpise’s observations that the fire department was incapable of monitoring all the pubs, eateries and other kinds of restaurants that were sprouting in Pune in large numbers ought to serve as a wake-up call to the citizens because it is a clear warning that a fire accident can break out anywhere, anytime. Rooftop restaurants and pubs are in vogue today and many have sprung up in different parts of Pune. Special attention needs to be paid to these because in the event of a fire in the building, escaping from the top floor is going to be an issue.

Pubs and restaurants are public places where people go in large numbers, especially on the weekends for enjoyment. Fire safety standards at these establishments ought to be on the higher side in public interest.

With as many as 500 violations having come to light, the civic authorities need to take immediate action, rather than act after a tragedy breaks out as is the standard response of the Indian bureaucracy.

First Published: Apr 16, 2018 14:50 IST