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An estimated 2-minute read

Fire Safety Norms in Indian Hospitals suffer a 'step-motherly' Treatment.

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“Kolkatta hospital fire kills over 70”. “Fire at Indian nursing home kills 35”. “Hospital fire kills at least 40 in Eastern India”. “Police blame safety violations as India hospital fire kills”. And the list is long.

I was dumb-struck at seeing about 3,550,000 results showing up on Google when I typed ‘fire accidents in India’. (Boy! Why did I do it?).

Most of the victims in Friday’s fire accident in Kolkatta were patients who were trapped inside with no clear exit routes. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has immediately ordered cancellation of licence to the ill-fated AMRI hospital and announced ex-gratia payments to the families of victims. Is that enough?

These accidents in majority cases were man-made and leave one with a disturbing question: Why do fire accidents in India leave a huge loss of lives throughout a year? The ‘Great London Fire of September, 1966’, though reducing half the city to ashes, had killed only 6. Whereas in the state of Haryana in India, a school fire back in 1995 left 500 dead. Why?

As major cities across the country continue to grow vertically upward, the fire safety measures have taken a back-seat and (sadly) been given ONLY a step-motherly treatment.

Each year, about 500 people in India lose their lives to a man-made fire accident. Majority of the victims are women and children. Kolkatta is not the only city in India groping (in the darkness) for an answer.

According to Delhi Fire Services statistics, the capital city had witnessed about 75,000 fire incidents between 1995 and 2000 resulting in deaths of about 2000 and injuries ranging from 7000 to 8000. (The Uphaar Cinema fire in June 1997 is still fresh in my memory)

Chennai witnessed about 9000 fire incidents between 2001 and 2006 leaving about 100 dead.

Mumbai, according to a brigade report, is recording almost 200 fire incidents a month since last May to October.

All points to one. There isn’t a clear fire safety procedure in place in all those incidents. Or else, the deaths could have been minimised (let alone saving them altogether). Have the authorities at helm of affairs (Government of India) understood the gravity of the situation and taken an initiative in this regard?

Yes, why not?

Fire Force bill, Fire Services bill, Fire Prevention and Safety Act (exclusively for high-rise buildings), Fire Protection and Control in the 7th schedule of Constitution, Explosives Rules for hazardous fire crackers, Model Rules for provision of Fire Fighting Equipment under Factories Act, Legislations such as Petroleum Act, the Cinematograph Act and Factories Act, numerous awareness programmes and delinking the state fire service administration from the control of the police are just to name a few.

Well done! But where does the fuse go wrong?

Take for example; did the fire-alarm go (as set in the guidelines) on Friday at AMRI? If installed as per the norms, were they tested once a month and batteries changed once a year?

Were the escape routes (if any) clearly marked and windows fixed with safety-opening feature? Wouldn’t the death toll have been fewer to a large extent had the patients in the hospital been briefed about the fire-safety?

Did the hospital administration ensure the electric wiring in the building was checked by a qualified electrician for leaks? Were the access routes to the hospital building clearly demarked for the Fire Service personnel to reach in case of accidents.

If the answer to the above is one emphatic ‘NO’, fire accidents in India would keep engulfing people.

(My heart-felt condolences to the poor victims of Friday’s fire accident at AMRI, Kolkatta).

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