Another fire accident in a building has killed more than 40 people and this time it happened in Delhi. People who died were workers in an unauthorised factory and perhaps were the sole bread earners for their family.
We have been seeing series of such accidents in last few years, each accident more severe than the previous one both in terms of loss of lives and property. Still we have not been able to prevent such casualties.
The Fire Services is a State subject and has been included as a Municipal function in the XII Schedule of the Constitution of India under Article 243 (W). As such, it is the primary responsibility of the State Governments to ensure safety of life and property of the citizens in the area of their jurisdiction. Thus, if we ask Central government about the fire accident blame will be shifted to state governments and if state government is questioned about such incidents they would point their fingers at local bodies. Local bodies will throw up their hands in helplessness saying lack of resources including finance to prevent such accidents.
The National Building Code of India (NBC), prepared by Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), covers the detailed guidelines for construction, maintenance and fire safety of structures. However, this is a voluntary Code intended to serve as a model Code for adoption/use by agencies like the PWD and other Government construction departments, local bodies and other construction agencies. The implementation of National Building Code comes within the purview of Urban Local Bodies and Urban Development Authorities who are responsible for sanctioning the Building Plans and issue Occupation Certificate.
The National Model Building Code 2016 has dedicated chapter on “Fire and Life safety”, which includes fire safety measures for residential and commercial buildings. Advisories were issued to all the State Governments to incorporate and implement the provisions of latest Model Building Code in their building bye-laws. The Directorate General (Fire Services, Civil Defence and Home Guards) issues advisories to the State Governments to conduct Fire and Life Safety Audits in the High Rise Buildings.
For example, guidelines/advisories were issued on 18th April, 2017 and 31th August, 2017 by Director General, Fire Services, Civil Defence and Home Guards, Ministry of Home Affairs, to all the States/UTs to incorporate the recommendations of National Building Code into their local Building ByeLaws for fire and life safety from time to time. There seems to be the government’s responsibility ends. There are no follow up actions, no monitoring systems and no one knows whether any state government or local body has conducted any fire audit in any building. Most of the buildings get away with the provisions by just installing fire extinguishers in the building.
Even our fire stations are poorly equipped. The number of fire stations are far less than what is normally required. DG (FS, CD & HG) had engaged Risk Management Solutions Inc. (RMSI), a consultative firm, to carry out Fire & Risk Hazard Analysis in the year 2011. According to the statistics collected by DG (FS, CD & HG), for example, Delhi had 53 fire stations as against the requirement (as suggested by RMSI) of 108. As at the end of 2018, the country had a total of 3377 fire stations as against the requirement of 8559 stations. It should be noted that RMSI had suggested the number of fire stations required in each state/UT in 2012 and considering the population today this number should have been much more.
Also, these fire stations are under staffed and lack of manpower is one of the greatest drawbacks of these fire stations. For example, the actual manpower in Delhi fire stations as on 31/12/18 was just 1632 as against the requirement of 6052. On all India basis, there were 54,239 people in the fire stations as against the requirement of 5,57,223 – not even 10% of the total requirement. Fire stations were also under equipped in terms of equipment and vehicles. Whereas the requirement in terms of equipment and vehicle was 32,710 as on 31/12/18 our fire stations had just 7306 equipment and vehicles. There is no doubt that these fire stations are not only under equipped but also they are ill equipped.
More than 15,000 people die in fire related activities all over the country and still we haven’t been able to come out with an effective policy to prevent fire accidents occurring in buildings. If we cannot ensure basic safety measures in the buildings what’s the use of making them smart? It may just help some realtors and not the common man. First ensure fire safety of the buildings and then make them smarter.