At least 14 persons were killed and 19 others injured in a fire incident last night on the third floor of a four-storeyed building on Senapati Bapat Marg of Mumbai where a birthday party was being celebrated. Majority of the victims were women, including the woman celebrating her birthday. The Mumbai Police has registered an FIR against the owner.
It is a case of déjà vu for Maharashtra which has failed to learn any lesson despite major fire incidents including at the Mantralaya in 2012.
NRDF’s risk analysis for Maharashtra in December 2011
The Directorate General National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) & Civil Defence (Fire), Ministry of Home Affairs in its “Fire Hazard and Risk Analysis in the Country for Revamping the Fire Services in the Country Final Report” on Maharashtra in December 2011 highlighted the gaps and identified the measures needed to be taken by Maharashtra government.
The report stated as per detailed GIS based analysis, the State would require additional 251 Fire Stations in urban areas and 666 Fire Stations in rural areas, which was an overall deficiency of 85% in terms of number of Fire Stations in Maharashtra
The report in its Vehicles and Specialized Equipment Gap Analysis in operational as well proposed Fire Stations both in urban and rural areas found an overall gap of about 88% in firefighting and rescues vehicles and about 92% in specialized equipment for both operational and new Fire Stations in urban and rural areas.
For Fire Personnel Gap Analysis in operational as well new proposed Fire Stations both in urban and rural areas, using the Administrative Reform Department (ARD, Delhi), this study found an overall gap of about 90% in fire personnel for double shift duty pattern.
The report recommended that there was an urgent need for fire prevention wing for inspection, awareness generation, and training for schools, hospitals, high-rise buildings, govt. offices, public buildings etc. to prevent recurrence of fire incidences.
The NDRF study estimated that a total investment of about Rs. 31,588 Crores spread over a period of 10 years was needed for Maharashtra State Fire Services including inflationary factors and after filling the gaps for both operational and proposed urban and rural Fire Stations.
Mantralaya fire of 2012:
Six months after the risk analysis report of the NDRF, a major fire broke out in Mantralaya (a high-rise building) on 21 June 2012 due to defective electric circuit which claimed five lives and caused massive damage to property. At the time of the accident, the building did not have final fire NOC from the Fire Department of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM). Fire investigation report submitted by CFO, Mumbai in August 2012 revealed that (i) the internal approach road to the building was blocked due to parking of vehicles and thus, caused inordinate delay in arrival of fire tenders (response time was 16 minutes), (ii) though an underground water storage tank (2.34 lakh litre capacity) was available in the building yet water could not be drawn through the court-yard fire hydrants and wet risers, as these were found to be non-functional, (iii) open spaces were not adequate for jacking and operating the fire engines due to landscaping and porch, and (iv) fire extinguishers were not functional.
The final fire NOC was issued by the Fire Department in October 2015 and the State Government incurred an expenditure of ₹ 202 crore as of March 2016 on renovations of Mantralaya building.
CAG’s prevention and control of fire audit of 2016:
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) conducted the performance audit of ‘Prevention and control of fire by selected Municipal Corporations’ for the period 2010-15. In its report, the CAG revealed that “eight of 26 Municipal Corporations could not spend 78 per cent of their capital budget during 2010-15 for purchase of specialized fire appliances, equipment, vehicles etc.”
Out of Rs 1091.20 crores allocated to the fire departments of 8 selected municipal corporations, a sum of Rs 854 crores was spent. An unspent balance of Rs 236.35 crores remained. For the procurement of plant and machinery, equipment and specialised fire appliances, out of Rs 702.95 crore made during 2010-15, the 8 selected municipal corporations spent only Rs 154 crores or 22%.
Inadequate number of fire stations
The CAG’s scrutiny of Comprehensive Plans and Mitigation Plans prepared by the eight selected MCs during 2010-15 for revamping the fire services revealed a shortfall of 105 fire stations (60 percent) based on the criteria of population (2.67 crore) and area (1,836 sqkm) of the Muncipal Corporations. Further, the CAG found except for the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai where one fire station was available per 13.51 sqkm, in the remaining seven MCs, one fire station was available per 36.57 sqkm, against the norm of 10 sqkm for the urban areas. No fire station was available in the rural areas in seven MCs, against the norm of one fire station per 50 sqkm. In its Comprehensive Plan of September 2014, MCGM proposed to construct 26 new fire stations but no construction could commence as of March 2016 due to non-availability of land (18 cases).
Number of fire incidents during 2010-2015
During 2010-15, total 2,822 fire incidents (major and minor) occurred in the local area jurisdiction of six of the eight selected MCs with 1,187 casualties. Under MCGM area, 24,332 fire incidents (major and minor) were reported during the same period with 1,144 casualties. The CAG reported that no uniform format had been prescribed for documenting/filing the fire investigation reports by the CFOs. As such, all the CFOs of MCs had been filing the details of fire incidents in different ways and manner. Two MCs (Amravati and Nagpur) were not even recording the complete details on the format they were using to file the reports. Further, except MCGM, the fire investigation reports were not being sent regularly by the CFOs to the concerned Municipal Commissioners and Standing Committees.
The CAG also observed that except two MCs (MCGM and Thane), none of the CFOs of six selected MCs conducted inspection of any buildings, educational institutions, hospitals, malls, multiplexes, industries, public gathering places, hotels etc. during 2010-15. Further, during inspection (June 2012) of the Central Excise Office, Regional Transport Office and office of the Superintendent of Police in Thane district, the CFO observed that no fire prevention and life safety measures were installed in these three buildings. Though notices were issued to these offices in July 2012, the observations made by the CFO on lack of fire safety measures were not complied with as of December 2015.
Major incidents of fire:
Lotus Neelkamal Business Condominium, a 20-storied building with glass facade, was granted final fire NOC by the Fire Department in November 2006. A major fire broke out in the building on 18 July 2014 due to defective electric circuit in the server room and it took 30 hours to control the fire. One fireman lost his life during fire-fighting operations. The CFO, Mumbai in its investigation report (August 2014) observed that though the building was having an underground water storage tank of one lakh litre capacity yet hardly 10 per cent water was available in the tank when the fire broke out and therefore, water could not be drawn through the court-yard fire hydrants and wet risers, as these were found to be non-functional. The fire NOC issued to the building was revoked in July 2014.
Gokul Niwas, a commercial-cum-residential building more than 30 years old, is situated in the densely populated Kalbadevi Road. The traders were using this building to stock various types of inflammable items/material such as, silk and cotton sarees, chemicals, processing solvents, acids, LPG cylinders, mobile accessories and batteries, plastic and paper packing material, material for processing and treatment of precious metals including gold ornaments etc. A major fire broke out in the building on 09 May 2015 due to defective electric circuit which took more than 80 hours to control. The entire building (ground plus four floors with attic) collapsed and four fire officers including CFO, Mumbai lost their lives during action. A fact-finding Committee constituted by MCGM inter alia recommended (May 2015) that (i) list of all dilapidated buildings in Mumbai should be kept by the Fire Disaster Management Department of MCGM/Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority, (ii) electrical wiring and meter boxes of buildings more than 30 year old should be checked by Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) Undertaking and yearly electric audit should also be done by BEST, (iii) storing of chemicals and gold making process should be banned in old buildings, and (iv) Global Positioning System should be installed on all fire vehicles.
The MCGM stated (April 2016) that recommendations made by the fact finding Committee were in different stages of implementation. However, the fact remained that the building in question did not have fire NOC and no periodical inspections were conducted by the Fire Department which might have averted catastrophe of this magnitude.
It is clear that Maharashtra has not learnt any lessons on fire-safety.