On a day 14 people died in a blaze at a pub in Mumbai’s Kamala Mills, frantic messages were exchanged on WhatsApp groups of restaurateurs and bar owners in Delhi’s posh Khan Market. The traders’ union has also called a meeting over the weekend to discuss how to make the market safer. “We had earlier asked the New Delhi Municipal Council not to allow commercial establishments to run except on the ground floor. But when they allowed conversion from first floor upwards, we asked them to ensure strict guidelines. The Khan Market Traders’ Association will hold a meeting in the morning — we need to ensure all fire safety equipment is up to date, probably figure out if we can keep get a fire tender stationed here,” said Sanjiv Mehra, president of the association.
The market, especially crowded over the weekend, has several bars and restaurants with narrow, dimly lit staircases and inadequate fire exits. But most cite a rule, which states that only restaurant with more than 50 seats need to have fire exits. At Parsi restaurant SodaBottleOpenerWala, spread across two floors, “there are 12 fire extinguishers, five fire buckets, trained staff but no fire exits”, said Sachet Seth, the manager. “We are a 46-seater; by law we don’t need to have fire exits. We ensure the venue doesn’t have any more people,” he said.
At the two-storey Townhall, there are two fire exits on each floor, which open up to The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and Harry’s Bar. Navneet Kalra, who owns Townhall and Public Affair in Khan Market, said, “We have two fire exits at all our venues in Khan Market… fire extinguishers too. It’s just not for fire safety but also other events like a terror attack… we have to be prepared,” said Kalra. On Friday morning, he texted his team to check if all fire safety equipment was up to date, and to ensure fire exits are not blocked.
Encroachment is another problem, said a member of the trade union. “If there is a fire in the narrow middle lane, the fire tender won’t reach… encroachment compounds this problem,” he said. At Mr Choy, a two-storey pan-Asian restaurant usually packed over the weekend, no fire exits have been constructed. Wine and coffee bar Perch, a 48-seater, has 12 fire extinguishers and no fire exit, an employee said. “We don’t host any musical performances or events here, because we can’t accommodate more than 48 people. We’d rather our customers wait than overcrowd the place,” said the employee.