Lethal misgovernance: On Anaj Mandi fire tragedy

The deadly fire at dawn on Sunday that swept through an unregistered bag factory in Delhi’s Anaj Mandi area killing 43 workers is a shocking reminder that for every big industrial unit showcased as evidence of an emerging power, there are scores of Dickensian ratholes in which workers toil under crushing, dangerous conditions. Neither the Delhi government nor the Centre, which has control of law and order in the national capital, can pretend to be surprised at the many casualties. It is well known that poorly paid labourers live and work in several residential buildings turned into unregistered factories, and those who died due to suffocation or burn injuries were no different. Most of them came from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, and virtually slept at night next to the machines they worked on. If it is confirmed by a probe that the victims were locked in and obstructed by materials stacked on staircases, the culpability of those responsible would be enormously higher. A small consolation is the rescue of several people given the narrow approach to the stricken building, and a mass of tangled wires. The building’s owner and the manager have been arrested to mollify public anger, but administrative agencies cannot escape responsibility for allowing the factory and other such units to function illegally, without safety audits.

The third deadliest building fire in the national capital in two decades, on December 8, ahead of the polls to the Delhi Assembly, will provide grist to the Opposition to pin the blame on the AAP government, which is responsible for civic services and labour issues. Delhi’s Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal has, on the other hand, been blaming the lack of complete authority and obstruction by the Centre for his party not being able to deliver on a broader development agenda. Public safety cannot be allowed to fall victim to this irresponsible wrangling. Political parties, civil society and government must chart a new course, with a plan to make the older, built-up areas safe. At the root of chaotic urban development is the deplorable compact arrived at between governments and violators that allows rezoning to accommodate illegal commercial establishments in residential zones, weak enforcement of regulations and post facto regularisation of illegalities. The Supreme Court of India has come down on municipal authorities in Delhi in the past for this, although culpability of building owners, as in the Uphaar Cinema case, has not been dealt with sternly. Initial financial relief has been announced for the victims in the Anaj Mandi fire, and some people will face the law, but the real test lies in whether this is treated as a watershed. Rules under the new occupational safety code must be strong enough to protect workers. Less government and lax enforcement is bad policy. It costs lives and harms the economy.

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Printable version | Dec 8, 2021 4:21:42 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/lethal-misgovernance/article30259827.ece

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