The Gujarat High Court on Wednesday allowed the family of one of the eight Covid-19 patients who died in a fire at Ahmedabad’s Shrey Hospital to be added as a party in the public interest litigation (PIL) that seeks to fix accountability with respect to fire safety in buildings in the state.
Meanwhile, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) chief fire officer, in an affidavit, indicated that nearly 40 per cent of hospitals and clinics in Ahmedabad city limits do not have valid fire NOCs at present.
Eight Covid-19 patients had died at the ICU ward of Shrey Hospital on August 6 due to an alleged short-circuit. A PIL was filed by high court advocate Amit Panchal as party-in-person, days after the incident, highlighting that the state has been “very selective” in complying with the court’s directions in earlier matters concerning fire safety as well as with the implementation of the Gujarat Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act, 2013.
As per the petitioner, while the fire prevention Act extends to the whole of Gujarat, its application, however, “excludes all areas within the jurisdictional limits of municipal corporations.”
Among the eight who were killed in the fire was Arvind Bhavsar, whose son, Himanshu Bhavsar, had moved an application before the court, seeking that he be joined as a party in the PIL, with an intention to apprise the court of “certain vital and important aspects and provisions,” as is enshrined in existing legal provisions, with respect to fire safety.
It was also submitted that as a victim, he would be well placed to make correct submissions on the circumstances and subsequent developments with respect to the Shrey fire incident. Heard by a division bench headed by Chief Justice Vikram Nath, the application was allowed and the victim family was permitted to be joined as a party in the proceeding.
Meanwhile, in an affidavit filed by the state government through the deputy secretary of urban development and urban housing department, RH Vasava, it was submitted that apart from existing fire Act and rules and regulations, as framed by the Gujarat government, 32 divisional fire offices are being created determining their headquarters and jurisdiction, as per a notification of March 2018.
Vasava’s affidavit also denied the PIL’s contention that the state has been “very selective” in complying with court’s earlier directions, although he clarified that the municipal corporations and municipalities in the state “have their respective Local Fire Service”. It was also stated on record that “the Municipal Corporations have enough man power in fire services,” and added that given that municipal corporations are autonomous bodies, if they feel existing staff strength in fire services are not sufficient. “they are at liberty to review the strength periodically and they can increase the number of staff.”
The affidavit stated that “the state government has done the needful with reference to the unfortunate incident of Shrey Hospital,” after informing that an inquiry report being looked into by retired judge KA Puj, is awaited, with a timeline of three months given to complete the probe.
Meanwhile, in another affidavit filed by MF Dastoor, Chief Fire Officer at the AMC, it was stated that “more than 1,300 hospitals/clinics have already obtained the requisite NOCs, whereas in case of remainder hospitals (of the total around 2,200 hospitals and clinics), the concerned municipal authorities have already taken up the task to cover the said remainder hospitals/ clinics as early as possible.”
The matter has now been kept for further hearing on October 21.
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