The rustling noise of plastic bags, stores teeming with people and scores of vehicles – the shopping area in T. Nagar is congested throughout the year. Festival season only means that the crowd multiplies.
An increase in the crowd also brings with it concerns pertaining to fire safety. A couple of months ago, the T.Nagar Residents Welfare Association sent a petition to the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services (TNFRS), under the Right To Information (RTI) Act, asking for particulars about fire safety in some of the leading commercial establishments on Usman Road.
According to the response, dated July 27, 2011, 11 leading garments and jewellery showrooms do not have a valid fire licence issued by the Directorate of Fire and Rescue Services, for most of the commercial establishments did not meet the necessary requirements in terms of safety equipment or preparedness. In the case of most of the establishments, a licence had not been issued, while one sari showroom had not renewed its licence.
The response to the RTI query also revealed that while first aid and fire extinguishers were available in most cases, one jewellery shop on Usman Road alone had equipment and even that was not functional. Hose reels, wet risers and automatic smoke detection systems were available in some of the buildings, but most of the establishments did not have an automatic extinguishing system (such as sprinklers).
None of the buildings had side setback area all around. No building had conducted a mock drill, either. The fire exits and staircase facilities were deemed inadequate and the water facility for fire fighting was also not found to be adequate in most cases.
Confirming the RTI revelation on fire safety systems in certain commercial buildings on Usman Road, T. Nagar, S. Veeramani , Divisional Fire Officer (Chennai City South) of the TNFRS said most of the buildings had violated the fire safety rules.
Speaking to The Hindu on Tuesday, he said: “We carried out inspections at these shops this morning and we have asked the owners to install the necessary fire safety equipment, including sprinklers, hose reels and smoke detection devices.”
TNFRS teams would conduct surprise checks at these establishments and in case of a violation inform the Chennai Corporation and Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) to initiate enforcement action immediately. Action, depending on the degree of the violation, could even amount to closure of the shop, Mr. Veeramani said.
“The TNFRS has also briefed the monitoring committee appointed by the Madras High Court on the safety initiatives adopted by these business establishments,” he added.
Traders on Usman Road said most of the shops had safety mechanisms in place and only a few needed to get further equipped. T. Sarathy, secretary of the Panagal Park and Usman Road Traders' Association said: “Safety is top priority of all our members. It is an issue not just for the several lakh customers visiting the area everyday, but also for the thousands of employees and store owners.”
It is in this context the Association, along with residents, pushed for a fire station in the locality. After several requests, a temporary fire station was set up in South Usman Road last December.