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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Gujarat HC: Govt wakes up only when court takes up fire safety issue

“As and when the matter comes up before the court, the court passes the order, gives directions then no action (is taken), again there is a lull period and nothing is happening. What happens to the directions issued by the court from time to time?" the court said.

By: Express News Service | Ahmedabad |
May 26, 2021 4:18:14 am
Firemen try to douse the flames raging through the shanties at Vejalpur slum in Ahmedabad on Tuesday. (Photo: Nirmal Harindran)

Coming down heavily on the state government over its lax attitude on fire safety, the Gujarat High Court on Tuesday said the government “wakes up” only when the court takes up the issue and remarked that it has ignored the directives passed by the high court as well as the Supreme Court from time to time.

Hearing a public interest litigation moved by advocate Amit Panchal appearing as party-in-person on Tuesday, a division bench of Justices Bela Trivedi and Bhargav Karia sought details from the state government as well as municipal corporations with regard to compliance, non-compliance or partial compliance of its directives dated December 15, 2020 and February 26, 2021.

The bench remarked to advocate general Kamal Trivedi representing the state government, “You’ve woken up only after the court issued notices and passed orders… so many buildings (are) without BU (building use) permissions and (fire) NOCs… and this is going on since years! There were specific directions given to corporations, to nagarpalikas, to everyone, to see to it that all provisions are strictly complied with. Why are no actions being taken?”

“As and when the matter comes up before the court, the court passes the order, gives directions then no action (is taken), again there is a lull period and nothing is happening. What happens to the directions issued by the court from time to time? Even the Supreme Court has come down very heavily on this issue… still no action is being taken. Why? So now we have to fix responsibility… most of the directions have not been complied with… Just filing of affidavits will not stop fires,” the court added.

In the PIL, filed after a fire in the ICU of Shrey Hospital in August 2020 killed eight patients, Panchal sought strict implementation of all fire safety regulations, and fixing of accountability of officials. The Gujarat HC has also, in several instances, stressed on state and local bodies to ensure fire safety, especially in hospitals and schools.

Bharuch incident

Taking up the fire incident at Patel Welfare Hospital in Bharuch where 18 were killed earlier this month, the division bench pointed out to the hospital, represented by senior advocate Percy Kavina, that it had failed to clarify on the fire safety inspection undertaken by the authorities on April 30.

As per the affidavits by the state government and Bharuch municipality chief officer, the authorities were unaware that the Covid-19 facility was being run from a new building, which did not have fire NOC, as they were only shown the old building that had a valid fire NOC.

The bench told Kavina, “(State government affidavit) has stated that on April 30 a team visited Bharuch hospital and they had shown only the old building and not the new building. The Bharuch municipality chief officer has said a fire team went for inspection where you (hospital) had shown the old building and not the new building. You are absolutely silent on the visit of this team on April 30. Did you show the new building (for inspection)?”

To this, Kavina responded that the hospital had shown the new building and that the hospital authorities could not have shown the old building for the reason that “when we shifted to the new building, we stripped the basement (of old building) of all facilities, we took out the oxygen line also. No person, unless they are completely blind, can be shown the old building (for fire safety inspection)”. Kavina also added that the hospital trust is also paying ex gratia to the kin of the deceased, including two nurses, who were paid “Rs 2 lakh or such”.

The court directed Kavina to submit the same on oath and file additional affidavits to this extent. The matter is expected to be taken up next on June 1.

Shrey Hospital plea

The court refused to grant a plea moved by Shrey Hospital in Ahmedabad seeking permission to resume operations. Senior advocate Nirupam Nanavaty representing the hospital on Tuesday sought that the hospital be permitted to open for administrative purposes on the condition to not run the hospital otherwise.

The bench rejected the plea and insisted that he may not press for it at this stage. The court, however, granted the hospital the liberty to “file afresh as may be permissible under the law”.

Meanwhile, in a petition, the Ahmedabad Medical Association (AMA) and 44 other doctors of Ahmedabad whose clinical establishments were sealed by Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation owing to non-compliance with appropriate building use permits, sought permission to operate. The division bench has reserved its judgment.

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