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Beyond immediate news frenzy, no sustained efforts to address fire accidents

A February 23, 2010 photo of smoke billowing out of Carlton Towers on HAL Airport Road.

A February 23, 2010 photo of smoke billowing out of Carlton Towers on HAL Airport Road.  

Online fire safety rating system will push building owners to comply with laws

The year 2019 continued to see a string of accidental fires in public places across India — a coaching centre in Surat, a hotel in Delhi, the Aero India show in Bengaluru, to name a few. There were also fires in illegal factories in Delhi. Over a hundred people died in just eight publicised accidents.

However, beyond the immediate news frenzy after such tragedies, there have been no sustained efforts to address this significant life-threatening challenge.

It has been well documented that the primary reason for fire accidents in India is the violation of fire safety laws by building owners or managers — locking exit doors, constructing restaurants on rooftops, having inflammable material in the building … the list is long. We have reasonably strict fire safety laws in various States and good building codes, especially after the introduction of the National Building Code of India. However, owing to poor oversight and lack of awareness among the public, many have continued to flout the laws.

Violators probably believe that the cost of compliance is much higher than any personal loss from a fire, be it monetary or legal. I’ve listed some ideas to address this issue of compliance.

Ratings for public spaces

Today, most citizens check online ratings before they go to a restaurant or a hotel. We should get online platforms such as Swiggy, Zomato, Oyo, MakeMyTrip, BookMyShow (for theatres), and Practo (for clinics/hospitals) to add a fire safety rating tag to the property on their platform. This could be a combination of a self-administered audit periodically updated by the property as well as user ratings. Failure to comply with fire safety will become expensive, because the property will lose customers if their ratings are poor.

The Fire Department should publish fire safety inspection reports of buildings with a simple rating system of green, orange, and red. Citizens should be able to go online and check the rating of a building. In Karnataka, the Fire Department is tasked with not only giving a fire no-objection certificate after the construction of a building, but also inspecting buildings every two years, based on the public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed by Beyond Carlton. These inspection reports are not easily accessible. With this simple rating system available online, there will be pressure on building owners to comply with the laws.

The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act has increased the fines on traffic violations dramatically. While the statistics are still not out on its impact on road safety, I do believe that a similar approach should be taken against those who flout safety rules. There should be a monetary fine imposed on the building owners and associations on any reported violation. This, however, may need a change in the State Acts and may take longer to be implemented.

I believe that some of the ideas, if implemented, will ensure that the cost of compliance is much lower than the consequences of violations and should result in a reduction in fire accidents.

(Gopal Devanahalli is a member of the executive council of Beyond Carlton)

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2020 1:50:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/beyond-immediate-news-frenzy-no-sustained-efforts-to-address-fire-accidents/article30892625.ece

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