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RSTV: THE BIG PICTURE- FIRE SAFETY IN INDIA

RSTV: THE BIG PICTURE- FIRE SAFETY IN INDIA

RSTV

Introduction:

National Capital witnessed one of the worst fire tragedies in almost two decades when at least 43 people were killed and several others injured in north Delhi’s Anaj Mandi. Initial enquiries point out many glaring negligencies such as locked escape routes , no fire safety equipment and no fire safety clearance from the authorities. Rescue operations were also hampered due to narrow lanes. This tragedy has once again brought in focus the fire safety norms in India and to what extent are they adhered to.

Facts:

  • According to National crime records bureau figures 17,700 Indians died and 48 people every day due to fire accidents in 2015.
  • Of those who died, 62% were women
  • Maharashtra and Gujarat, the two most highly urbanised states, account for about 30% of the country’s fire accident deaths.
  • According to India Risk Surveys 2018, outbreak of fire poses risks to business continuity and operations and ranks India at 3rd position in fire incidents, especially in Northern and Western regions of India.
  • There was 300% increase in case of fire incidents in commercial buildings between 2014-15.
  • From a national perspective, a study sponsored by the Ministry of Home Affairs reported that
    • A minimum of 8,599 fire stations are needed in India; however, only 2,087 are in place.
    • It was also outlined that India requires 559,681 more trained fire individuals, 221,411 firefighting equipment, and 9,337 firefighting vehicles and units.
    • The lack of investment in fire safety resulted in 17,700 Indians lives lost due to accidental fires in 2015.

Loopholes in Fire Safety in India:

  • Violation of safety norms and lack of standardisation and regulation is a major cause of fire accidents, as large scale construction of false roofs in commercial buildings and multiplexes is against the national building construction code.
  • High rise buildings are more prone to fire accidents as they lack an adequate in-built fire protection system that makes salvaging operations difficult.
  • Poorly stored goods, even though they are not flammable, helps to spread fire and hinder fire fighters gain access to the seat of the fire or reduce the effectiveness of sprinkler systems.
  • Unclear provisions of fire safety audit in terms of scope, objective, methodology and periodicity of a fire safety audit.
  • Lack of adequate resources, preparedness and poor fire services fail to ensure fire safety cover to the population.
  • Lack of awareness about the safety arrangements before purchasing or hiring a flat in an apartment or before starting an institution.
  • Faulty Wiring: PUF (polyurethane foam) used for plastic insulation carries a high risk of accidental fire as most of the times it is exposed to electrical wiring which on becoming heated due to overloading or short circuit catches fire immediately.

Regulations are not working:

  • There is a close correlation between deaths due to fire-related accidents and population density associated with urbanisation.
  • These are man made disasters with failure in urban planning  manufactured by a mix of bad regulations and compromised enforcement machinery and powerful interest groups.
  • Urban areas alone require an additional 4,200 fire stations just to meet the minimum standard for response time.
  • Buildings need in-built fire-fighting equipment like sprinklers and alarms that work. But there is hardly any attention.
  • Regular inspections are supposed to ensure the presence of basic fire-fighting equipment as well as compliance with building norms. But there are enough loopholes, such as norms not applying for establishments with a seating capacity of less than 50 people.
  • People also view inspections as a form of license raj. There is a lot of resistance
  • Technological issues: urban cities have failed to invest in LIDAR-based (Light Detection and Ranging) technologies that can be used to aerially keep a track of setbacks and the presence of fire exits.
  • Adequate space could have easily been retained for essential services like fire stations while redeveloping mill land, but urban cities don’t do it.
  • Inspection authorities failure

 Measures needed:

  • Modernisation of Fire safety equipment: the government should provide financial support and assistance in augmenting and modernising the fire departments
  • Proper designing of electrical fittings and regular maintenance of wiring (at least once in a year).
  • Building awareness among citizens about fire prevention and protection measures by organising fire fighting workshop once in six months in localities/Mohallas/schools with the involvement of local councillors/elected representatives.
  • Fire service departments should audit critical fire prone installations (like high rise buildings, multiplexes in congested areas) periodically (once in six months) and take appropriate actions against erring establishments.
  • Proper demarcation of entry and exit points in crowded buildings, installation of fire fighting equipment and their regular maintenance, periodic renewal of No-objection certificates by building owners in order to ensure fire preparedness.

Way forward:

  • Fire service is a state subject and has been included as municipal function in the XII schedule of the Constitution. The municipal corporations and local bodies are responsible for providing fire services in many states.
  • All State governments should require mandatory compliance with such safety features for any institution handling patients or giving care.
  • Certification of facilities through third-party audit should be made compulsory to eliminate conflicts of interest involving official agencies.
  • The institutions should also be insured for the highest levels of public liability.
  • At a broader level, governments must shed their indifference and work to make all spaces safe.
  • In private, public or commercial buildings, official agencies tend to favour tokenism rather than high standards for the safety of occupants and visitors.
  • They are ever-willing to “regularise” deviations in construction over time. It is time to fix responsibility for deadly accidents on a single official agency.
  • There is a need to break the  bureaucracy-real estate business nexus.
  • Strict implementation of laws is necessary especially fire regulations
  • There needs to be focus on holistic development which addresses economic growth, employment, social change. At the same time, it needs to deal with economic deprivation, environmental degradation, waste management, and proper utilisation of space.

By 2050, almost 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. India and all countries around the world must see the importance of fire safety when building and extending cities. If not, we will be walking unprepared into a deadly inferno.