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BBMP stirs the pot: Bengaluru eateries feel the heat in fire safety sweep

For the first time, the civic body has issued notices to every second bar or restaurant it inspected since the fire mishap that was reported in Koramangala’s Mudpipe Cafe on October 18. Of the 1,333 establishments audited in the last ten days, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has shuttered 60 restaurants, including rooftop bars. Another 600 establishments face the threat of closure for not providing adequate fire safety measures.

During the audit, the civic body found that at least 200 bars and restaurants were running without the trade license, a majority in eastern parts of Bengaluru including Mahadevapura. Other than hygiene, the BBMP’s health officials have been primarily scanning establishments operating on the rooftop and those without the fire extinguishers.

Dr Thrilok Chandra, BBMP’s special commissioner (health) said they have been shutting down establishments that do not have the trade license without giving them any opportunity to contest. “Wherever we have issued notices, they get a chance to comply with the rules and run the business without any fear,” he said, adding that rooftop bars that do not have permission will also be shut.

The last such city-wide audit of bars and restaurants was initiated late in 2017 after the Kamala Mills fire tragedy in Mumbai killed over 20 people. In Bengaluru, the BBMP had served notices to many rooftop establishments for setting up kitchens, with combustible substances, on the terrace.

No clarity

The ongoing drive is, however, marred with ambiguity as health officials in different zones are following different standards while assessing the bars and restaurants which have always faced unnecessary harassment from the law-enforcement agencies. For instance: A large number of establishments inspected by health officials in East, South, Bommanahalli and Yelahanka have been slapped with notices as against other zones.

What can also be noted is that not a single bar and restaurant has been closed in Dasarahalli and Yelahanka. Only the East and West zones (see table) have shuttered more than a dozen establishments as compared to other places.

As per the Karnataka Fire Force Act 1964, which was amended in 2023, a non-objection certificate from the Karnataka State Fire and Emergency Services department is needed only for high-rise buildings that are 21 meters or above in height. During the ongoing drive, many restaurants that are operating in buildings that are less than three floors have been served with notices for not obtaining permission from the fire department.

A restaurant owner in East Bengaluru, who was served with notice for not having fire safety measures, said that he is running his restaurant on the ground floor of a two-storey building and permission from the fire department was not needed.

“In the name of inspection, some health officers run a racket of looting money from the restaurateurs. For us, the safety of our employees and guests is paramount. Does BBMP have fire safety equipment in any of its buildings? He wondered.

He said fire accidents happen anywhere, be it in buses, open places etc but urged the authorities not to harass businesses that are contributing over Rs 100 crore a day just in taxes besides creating employment for many.

There is also ambiguity surrounding the legality of operating on the rooftop. While health officials of some zones say such establishments are illegal, a few other zones have insisted that it is allowed as long as they do not have a kitchen on the terrace. Of the 60 establishments which were shut in the last ten days, almost half of them are rooftop bars and restaurants, officials said.

BBMP’s Chief Commissioner Tushar Girinath said there is confusion on the legality of rooftop establishments but we are not shutting them down.

“We are not closing the rooftop bars and restaurants as long as they have put in place adequate fire safety measures in place. Rooftop establishments are required for the city and they are very popular,” he said.

The National Restaurants Association of India, Bengaluru chapter has, however, been silent during the ongoing inspection.

PC Rao, president of Bruhat Bengaluru Hotels Association said he has received complaints from many members that they were served with notices unnecessarily. “We are in the process of gathering feedback from many members including the copy of notices. The association plans to meet the chief commissioner and the ministers to inform what is happening on the ground,” he said.

What the fire dept says

Kamal Pant Director General of Police and Director General Fire and Emergency Services spoke to DH about the challenges faced by the department to keep violations in check. “We don’t have the manpower to conduct surveys on what buildings are flouting the NOC regulations; it is a tall order because we hardly have 40 offices in Bengaluru. It will serve very little purpose to go on such a drive now” he said. “Big builders that have several high-rise and mid-rise buildings in the city have much to lose if they don’t comply with necessary regulations unlike smaller builders. Because the builders invest huge sums of money into their construction projects they tend to take necessary safety measures to avoid dangerous consequences. A lot of these smaller builders can get away with this but they are not under our purview” Pant said. It is very utopian he said to expect that all buildings are checked before during and after construction and from time to time. “It is simply not possible to keep checking what everyone is doing in their buildings after permissions are given. Whether it is a high-rise building or not the operator should take the onus of following the right safety protocols.”

(Published 28 October 2023, 20:24 IST)

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