Almost a week after a major fire broke out in the commercial cum residential hub of Zaveri Bazaar killing two people and injuring six,fire officials admitted that areas like Chira Bazaar,Zaveri Bazaar,Kalbadevi in C-ward are slowly turning into a firemans nightmare with their narrow bylanes,old wood-heavy buildings and countless illegal extensions. These facts came to light after Mayor Shubha Raul asked to set up a committee of experts to probe into the Zaveri Bazaar fire. Three lives were lost due to the fire. We need to seriously investigate why such incidents are on the rise in the city especially in old congested pockets, said Raul.
Fire officials admit that the recent fire accident is a wake up call. The dilapidated buildings in areas like Kalbadevi were originally supposed to be used for residential purpose only. But owners add floors to the original structure and convert it into a commercial hub, said chief fire officer PD Karguppikar. A small scale industry like zari making,goldsmiths and hosiery business is started inside the building. People dont realise that all these activities end up making the building more combustible, added Karguppikar.
Raul will be chairing a meeting with the Municipal Commissioner next month to discuss the matter. Developers have their vested interest. They will obviously not oppose to turn these structures into industrial units. It is important to redevelop these structures fast but re-development laws prove a hindrance, said Raul. Statistics reveal that among the 1,200-odd old buildings (prior to 1969) that exist in the region,almost 50% house goldsmith and zari units. They operate as residential units too. Since 2008,fire accidents in such old buildings have seen an alarming rise. As these are old buildings,they are constructed in wood,making them more vulnerable. Hence it is very important that such buildings adhere to the norms, said Karguppikar. As modern fire fighting measures are largely absent in old buildings,rescue operations become more challenging.
Last October saw a similar incident where 100-year-old Mhada building,Johari Mansion,housing several textile shops and offices caught fire killing a fifty-year-old man and a three-year-old girl. Fire officials admit that rampant use of LPG gas cylinders is also a cause of concern. After the fire in this area of south Mumbai in May 2002,where 24 people lost their lives,the Bombay HC passed an order that among other things,effectively banned the use of LPG gas cylinders in the area and deemed their use as illegal, said Karguppikar. We need to penalise the offenders and undertake massive awareness drives on fire safety, added Karguppikar.
Mayor Raul stated that a proper study of previous accidents should be done. There should be a strict ban on LPG cylinders in such buildings. The recent fire accident definitely calls for stricter action.