A few years ago, I visited a textile shop in Chennai and was directed to the basement to find what I was looking for. I found the walls lined with shelves from the floor to the ceiling on all sides. Just then, the electricity went off and there was panic with customers rushing towards the only staircase, which was already choked with jostling crowds. The salesmen tried in vain to calm them saying the generator would be switched on. It was, after a couple of minutes that seemed to stretch forever.

Safety regulations are rarely in place in most shopping areas. A simple international safety rule that doors at the entrance should be pulled from outside and pushed from inside is rarely followed. There are no escape stairways on the exterior of multi-storeyed buildings. As a first step, basements should be converted into ventilated car parks. There should be multiple exit points in shops and public buildings. No effort or expense should be spared to ensure safety.

Sujatha Vijayaraghavan,