The Kamala Mills fire: a look at how the events unfolded

‘People dying in fires just a statistic for government,’ says Neelam Krishnamoorthy

Neelam Krishnamoorthy author of the book "Trial by Fire" the gut-wrenching story of the parents who lost their children to the Uphaar Cinema fire and lived to fight for justice, during a interview at her residence, in New Delhi. (File Photo)   | Photo Credit: Shanker Chakravarty

The convener of the Association of the Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT), Neelam Krishnamoorthy, who lost her two teenage children in the cinema blaze in 1997, talks to The Hindu about ineffective policies on fire safety in India, and the nexus of government officials and shop owners that results in non-implementation of guidelines and leads to tragedies such as the one at Kamala Mills.

Two fire incidents were reported from Mumbai within a week. Your comment.

The existing policy governing fire safety measures in India is ridiculous. Add to that the nexus between government officials and building owners, and you end up creating tinderboxes. The Mumbai tragedy is the result of this nexus in a country where there is utter lack of effective deterrents and court verdicts in cases such as in Uphaar cinema fire, embolden businesses to go on as usual. The government isn’t interested; people dying in such incidents are just numbers for politicians who convert, and talk about, dead bodies as statistics.

Many public spaces in Delhi seem to lack fire safety clearances, which you have been very vocal about.

The condition in Delhi, especially in areas such as Hauz Khas Village and Khan Market, is pathetic and I intend to approach the Delhi government over the issue very soon. There is clear violation of fire safety norms, which I have personally observed, and evident lack of space to allow access to fire tenders in case of an emergency. Despite this, eateries, which must have stringent safety arrangements in place, continue to operate. NOCs from the Fire Department seem to be available for a price both in Delhi and Mumbai.

What are the irregularities that you have observed?

I have myself gone to restaurants where there is evident flouting of fire safety norms. For example, they will restrict the number of chairs to 49 and allow almost an equal number of guests to stand. There have been times when I’ve asked to see their fire escape, for which they have a sign put up on a wall but it doesn’t really exist. The main entrance being pointed out as the fire escape will do nothing but allow a stampede in case a fire breaks out. Leave other public places aside for a second, why is this blatant disregard for fire safety norms tolerated at eateries which have, among other flammable objects, gas cylinders?

What is lacking in Delhi fire safety norms: enforcement or effective policy making?

I believe it is both. For instance, the Delhi Lieutenant-Governor recently notified certain norms in light of Supreme Court observations which were relatively more stringent but these seem to be only on paper. Cinema owners challenged these norms so we, the AVUT, went and intervened as a party. The matter is coming up for another hearing on February 2. I’m at a loss to understand why public spaces are not following these rules. Sure, it does cost a little more money, but in the long run it may work out to be less than the bribes they are paying to flout the law.

What do you think is the way forward?

Since there is a clear lack of effective deterrence, it is up to the people to take the lead and demand fire safety. When they ask for a menu at eateries, why not ask the management about the fire safety norms in place? If they are found wanting, why not click a picture and put it up on social media followed by a boycott?

Boycott such places and you will see that the people in charge will ensure these measures are implemented. This is the only way. When you go to such a place, you’re okay with paying for the ambience but why not for your safety? Call these people out on social media.

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Printable version | May 14, 2021 3:50:49 AM |

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