In what is touted to be the first for any city in India, Beyond Carlton on Wednesday released a five-year fire safety blueprint for Bengaluru, in consultation with the Karnataka Fire and Emergency Services Department. Beyond Carlton is a people’s initiative for fire safety that stemmed out of the Carlton Towers fire tragedy of 2010.
The blueprint has drawn a five-year roadmap from 2018 to 2022, which includes capability building, regulations and compliance, and awareness creation.
Among its key recommendations are introducing a retrofit policy for older buildings, linking property tax payment and fire No Objection Certificates, introducing a Public Private Partnership policy for private agencies to partner for new fire stations and monitoring, making burns wards compulsory in well-equipped hospitals, and developing protocols for inter-agency coordination. The plan also pushes for adoption of technology in a big way, including a tech upgrade that enables fire truck screens to see building plans.
The blueprint comes close on the heels of a string of fire tragedies across the country in the past one month, including at Kailash Bar and Restaurant in Kalasipalya, which resulted in the death of five employees. It is likely to have an impact on fire safety policies in the State.
M.N. Reddi, Director General of Police, Karnataka Fire and Emergency Services Department, in an audio message, said the report will be integrated with all ongoing projects as well as the KSAFE (Karnataka Safe) projects that the department is planning in the coming five years.
“The goal is to see a 50% reduction in injuries and property loss due to fire accidents, and ensure zero deaths in fire accidents in Bengaluru by 2023,” said R.A. Venkitachalam, Member, Executive Council, Beyond Carlton.
“The blueprint is all about making smart choices. For instance, bars come under the Excise Department. They are told to have only one entry and exit. Perhaps, that is a good thing for the Excise Department, but it is definitely not good for fire safety. So smart choices can be made in implementation,” he explained.
Another example was of old buildings. “We have buildings ranging from 300 years old to two years old. The National Building Code (of India) came into effect in 1985, and was revised in 2005 and 2016,” he said, explaining why the blueprint recommends a retrofit policy.
‘Worrying and grim’ figures for Karnataka
Members of Beyond Carlton shared what they called ‘worrying and grim’ figures for Karnataka.
The blueprint revealed that Bengaluru had seen 29 deaths, 251 injuries and property loss amounting to ₹269 crore between 2011 and 2016, according to statistics of the Karnataka Fire and Emergency Services Department.
Taking reference from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics for 2015, Uday Vijayan, Managing Trustee and President of Beyond Carlton, said five States — Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh — accounted for over 60% of deaths due to fire.
In Karnataka, 1,244 people had died in fires in 2015, 781 of them women. That appeared to be correlated to the other statistic: fires due to cooking gas exploding were reported to be the major reason for deaths (338), followed by electric short circuit (118).
Nationally too, NCRB data for 2015 showed that over 17,500 Indians died in fire accidents in a single year. As many as 7,445 Indians died in their residences.
Fire, a rising concern
Mr. Vijayan pointed out that fire is now among major risks in the country. “According to the FICCI-Pinkerton India Risk Survey 2017 that analyses the most significant threats to business perception and risks for the country, fire ranks as the fifth greatest risk among 12 risks,” he said.
Members of Beyond Carlton said there had been changes since the horrific Carlton Towers tragedy on February 23, 2010, especially after a PIL filed by Beyond Carlton in the Karnataka High Court resulted in a government notification laid down stringent preventive measures in high-rise buildings in the State. But they admitted that more needs to be done.
Mr. Vijayan says that buildings less than 15 metres tall are out of the ambit. Coordination between stakeholders, a key recommendation in the blueprint, would be a challenging task.
According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics for 2015, over 50% of deaths in commercial establishments in that year were from Karnataka. But Mr. Vijayan said the high number of deaths reported from commercial establishments in Karnataka could be because of better reporting here or under-reporting from elsewhere.
Too few fire stations
Challenges in infrastructure continue to pose a problem in fire safety. Members of Beyond Carlton said a Fire Department study had revealed that the city needs at least 70 fire stations, but has only around 20.
Key recommendations of blueprint
* Introduce a retrofit policy for older buildings
* Link property tax payment and fire NOCs
* Make burns wards compulsory in well-equipped hospitals
* Technology upgrade