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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Fires keep officials busy, hamper inspection of buildings in city

Fires in Mumbai buildings are no longer rare. The Mumbai fire brigade received around 7,500 calls for blazes, both major and minor, in the past two years. By contrast, BMC records show the fire brigade has inspected just 6,838 of the 2.9 lakh buildings in the city since October 2012. Of these, 4,453 have been sent notices for violations of fire safety rules.What is alarming is that only seven buildings have faced prosecution, the most recent being Lotus Business Park in Andheri where a fireman with the Borivli fire station lost his life.

Most recently , an inspection report into the December 15 blaze at Mumbai Central found several inadequacies in its fire prevention preparedness. A major tragedy was averted when firemen doused a blaze in the 21-storey railway quarters located opposite Mumbai Central railway station in one hour. Over a dozen of the 60 people evacuated had to be hospitalized. A few suffered serious burns and will need surgery. Currently, officials involved in routine fire-fighting themselves inspect buildings and slap notices. Other than highrises, they check malls and multiplexes. Officials admit that attending to fire calls makes regular inspection of structures difficult.

Keeping this in mind, the department is now working towards setting up an inspection cell that comprises 99 officials whose only duty would be to inspect buildings and slap notices if norms are flouted and prosecute those responsible.

"This inspection cell should be fully operational after December 2015. It would have 99 staffers, of whom 33 would be station officers and 66 assista nt station officers. They would not be engaged in routine firefighting and only serve notices when required, follow up on them and prosecute wherever the need be," said P S Rahangdale, deputy chief fire officer.

There are also plans to set up a computerized database, which would have all details regarding inspections and notices served. The department plans to emphasize on bi-annual inspection, once the software is in place.

"According to the Maharashtra Fire Protection and Safety Act, a society should submit an inspection report once every six months in January and July , which does not happen. We are, therefore, working towards a system that would send an SMS or email to the concerned building when an inspection is to be done biannually and has not been done," said a senior officer. Officials target December 2015 to make both the inspection cell and the computer database operational. A former chief fire officer, though, said the department does not have enough staffers to handle the increasingly vertical highrises.


The fire brigade move to have a separate cell for only inspecting buildings and prosecuting the laggards has been overdue. In a city that refuses to learn from examples (there have been quite a few major high-rise fires), prosecution is the only solution. But inspection and prosecution must be even-handed; allegations of corruption will make it another much-hated sarkari procedure that will be looked at as just another money-making tool for a section of officials.


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