Furnishing details of staff shortage in the fire departments of four municipal corporations – Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara and Rajkot – in an affidavit filed by the petitioner of a public interest litigation (PIL) on October 13, it was revealed that as many as 99 sanctioned posts for “fireman” remain vacant in the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC).
Notably, an earlier affidavit filed by the deputy secretary of the Urban Development and Urban Housing department of the state government, RH Vasava, listed in detail the creation of posts for ensuring fire safety and detailed infrastructural sufficiencies.
The PIL moved by practising advocate at the Gujarat HC, Amit Panchal, in the aftermath of the Shrey Hospital fire tragedy, wherein a purported short circuit had killed Covid-19 eight patients in the hospital’s ICU ward in August, has now rebutted the state government’s claims and produced details of vacancies against sanctioned posts.
As per Panchal’s affidavit, the AMC has 182 positions vacant of the total 670 positions sanctioned, which include posts for deputy chief fire officer, divisional fire officer, sub-officers, leading firemen, driver-cum-pump operator and firemen. Similarly in Rajkot, of the 228 sanctioned posts, 71 are vacant, and in Vadodara, of the 332 sanctioned posts, 98 are vacant. In Surat, where 22 students and children had died in the Takshashila fire incident in 2019, of the 1,043 sanctioned posts, 69 are vacant, including that of deputy chief, divisional, and station fire officers.
Overall, across the four municipal corporation areas, nearly one-fifth of the sanctioned posts remain vacant.
“…It clearly appears that a large number of posts with operational duties are vacant and it would be necessary in the interest of the administration as well as in public interest to ensure that the said posts are filled in immediately, so as to be able to mitigate disasters…,” the affidavit stated.
The affidavit added that although existing norms with regards to fire safety state that for issuing fire No Objection Certificates (NOCs) after verification and inspection of a building, and to ensure that the fire prevention and protection systems exist, the same may not have been possible owing to the paucity of staff and hence, filling up the vacant posts must be undertaken on an immediate priority.
In his affidavit, Panchal has stated that the state government’s earlier affidavit, filed by Vasava, wherein he had enumerated details of the posts created at the state-level in compliance with the Gujarat fire safety laws, not only provides incorrect information but also “seeks to mislead” the court.
Panchal’s affidavit said that while what Vasava submitted in his affidavit, “may be true on paper, no operational staff has been made available despite the orders having been passed by the State of Gujarat…nor are the notifications implemented in reality.”
Vasava’s affidavit had submitted that five regional fire offices had been created and 32 divisional fire offices were being created, with the determination of their headquarters and jurisdiction in progress, as per a notification of March 2018. A state-level fire training institute has also been set up and “efforts are being made to make it fully functional,” the affidavit had stated.
It was also submitted that 16 additional posts were recently created for the office of the director of the state fire prevention services in Gandhinagar. This claim was contested by Panchal, wherein he has submitted that no staff has been provided in the office of the director of state fire prevention service in Gandhinagar, except for the director, a deputy director for administrative division, a deputy accountant and a peon, although the office was activated with effect from 2015.
In the five regional fire offices, only five deputy accountants are working, and no working force exists for the 32 divisional fire offices.
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