Several cinema theatres in the city are not fully equipped to handle emergency situations. Sources in the Fire and Rescue Services Department said that during regular checks, they found that there was still scope for improvement.

The officials said that in many theatres particularly those with shopping complexes, issues such as electrical overload, fire retardants and insufficient exits have to be set right. The recent fire accident in a cinema theatre on Anna Salai has brought into focus the inadequate safety measures in the theatres.

While theatre owners in the city say that they follow the safety norms stringently, many cinema-goers say that several cinema halls are not equipped to manage the crowd and ensure safety even after their renovation.

V.Kumar, a frequent cinema-goer, said only a few theatres screen messages about dos and don'ts during an emergency situation. In some shopping malls cum theatres, spaces, including corridors, are converted in to shops leading to congestion.

The exit signages are not clear and the steps are narrow and steep in some cinema halls, which would pose difficulty during emergency, he said.

“Theatres are one of the places that draw large crowd. The recent fire accident has not evoked much reaction from theatre owners and the government agencies,” said R.Bhaskar, a resident of Koyambedu.

Abirami Ramanathan, president of Chennai City Theatre Owners' Association, said that there are 120 screens in city and suburbs. Theatres including those with shopping malls have to follow regulations such as those mentioned in Indian Electricity Rules, to obtain licence for running the shows. They also conduct fire drills and impose restrictions on bursting fire crackers.

However, R.Nataraj, Director, Fire and Rescue Services, said equipment such as smoke suction device are lacking in many buildings where large number of people congregated. “If they show laxity in fire safety measures, we may have to take punitive action against offenders,” he said.

The department has been writing letters to owners of multiplexes, high-rise buildings and cinema halls about the shortfalls and the need to rectify them.

A safety seminar would be organised shortly to create awareness among various stakeholders in the city, he said.

According to officials of Electrical Inspectorate Department, there are 102 cinema screens in the city. “While the Fire and Rescue Services department give no objection certificate for fire appliances, we check electrical safety every year. The city police commissioner will provide licence based on the checks,” said an official.

Though dry-type transformers are insisted to avoid accidents, some of the theatres continue to use oil-filled transformers, the official added.

G.N.Venkatasubramanian, safety consultant to Fire and Rescue Services Department, said theatres must ensure quick evacuation of people during emergency. Many shopping areas lack proper fire exits posing a risk to people. Poor maintenance of electricity transformers and cooking in theatre complexes also lead to accidents.

A structured audit is necessary for public places and boards on safety of the building must be on display, he said.

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