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Crack the whip on fire safety in buildings

The massive fire that engulfed the fourth floor of a commercial complex in Bengaluru’s Koramangala area once again exposes the total disregard to safety standards by the owners and tenants of such buildings and the callousness of the authorities, who look the other way even as every rule in the book is broken. According to the Director General of Fire and Emergency Services, Kamal Pant, the incident occurred when a chef was lighting a stove that was placed close to 12 gas cylinders that were stocked together.

Asuo motoFIR registered by the police, which blames the building owner for negligence, says the restaurant was functioning without obtaining the mandatory no-objection certificate from the fire department nor had the owner ensured the provision of functional emergency exits on the floor.

The incident brings back to the city’s memory the horrors of the Carlton Towers fire on Old Airport Road in 2010, in which nine people lost their lives and more than 70 were injured. Many such incidents have occurred since, the most recent one being in 2021 when an 82-year-old woman and her 59-year-old daughter were burnt alive when their flat in an apartment complex in Devarachikkanahalli caught fire. Both buildings had violated safety norms, but after the initial outrage, it was business as usual for all stakeholders, with no lessons learnt from these unfortunate incidents.

One of the main reasons for the recurrence of such incidents is the rampant corruption within the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the fire department and other agencies like the Excise Department. A majority of commercial buildings and high-rises in Bengaluru today are built in violation of the National Building Code (NBC) which mandates that multi-storeyed buildings, defined as structures that are taller than 15 meters, should not be allowed on a road less than 12 meters wide. The entrance to the building should be at least six metres wide, while sufficient setback should be allowed. But the reality in Bengaluru today is that anybody who owns a plot of land can build a multi-storeyed building in violation of all norms by greasing the palms of officials. Considering how deep the rot runs, the government should set up an independent taskforce comprising technical experts of high integrity to conduct a safety audit of all high-rise and high-risk buildings, including commercial complexes, apartment blocks and pubs, and ensure that they comply with all safety regulations or shut down. The government should launch criminal proceedings against negligent and guilty officers that have allowed rule violations in their jurisdictions. Those who live and work in, or patronise, these buildings and establishments should not become victims of the greed and apathy of businessmen and officials.

(Published 19 October 2023, 20:39 IST)

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