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Questions over fire safety in Mumbai skyscrapers

Skyscrapers in south Mumbai. -- Photo: Paul Noronha  

Last week’s fire in a highrise in the Lotus commercial compound in suburban Mumbai brought to light serious lacunae in the fire department. However, residents of highrises are doing very little to prevent catastrophes in their buildings.

According to the municipal corporation, as many as 95 per cent of buildings in the city have not undergone safety audits as mandated under the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Rules, 2009, since they came into existence. This year, only three highrises have submitted their safety audit reports to the fire department.

Took time

“It took time for people to become aware of the law and the rules under it. It also took long for the Director of Fire Services to form a panel of experts to carry out these audits. But it needs to be seen whether the demand of the audits and the experts is proportional,” said Municipal Commissioner Sitaram Kunte.

The law makes it mandatory for residents and building owners to undergo half-yearly safety audits and submit a report to the fire department. “Only if residents submit a report can we recommend safety measures or take action against erring societies. Most buildings in the city have not submitted reports. This shows that the audits are not conducted,” said S.A. Kale, Deputy Chief Fire Officer.

Most stringent laws

The Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Rules, 2009 are among the most stringent safety laws. It empowers the fire department to disconnect a building’s water and power supply, and even evict occupants if they are found to be neglecting fire safety.

However, until March 31, the fire department had carried out 3,469 inspections and issued notices to 1,357 structures. But only four society members have so far been prosecuted with fines. “We have always maintained that we want to use the Act for prevention. We want to make residents aware and not punish them. So we give them time to make the necessary amendments to their buildings,” said a fire official.

Crucial exercise

Conducting audits for highrises is extremely crucial given that most highrises in the city are over 100 metres and the fire brigade’s tallest ladder is 68 metres. “Residents have to take initiative for conducting fire audits. There are not enough registered agencies to carry out the audits. Currently, there are about 80 firemen who do it,” said a fire official.

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Printable version | Oct 27, 2020 6:41:52 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/questions-over-fire-safety-in-mumbai-skyscrapers/article6234835.ece

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