September 25, 2021 3:07:45 am
A division bench of the Gujarat High Court on Friday expressed its dissatisfaction at the state’s “tardy” attitude in complying with fire safety and building use permit requirements in hospitals, schools and high-rise buildings, noting that the Supreme Court had already directed the state to proactively ensure adherence to rule of law.
The court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed following a fire in the ICU of Ahmedabad’s Shrey Hospital that killed eight patients, which sought compliance with fire safety through valid fire NOCs and valid BU permits.
The state government however informed the court that it has taken to a strategy of ensuring fire compliance by “motivation and persuasion” of building owners and stakeholders, instead of directly taking coercive actions.
Advocate General Kamal Trivedi submitted before the bench of Justices N V Anjaria and AP Thaker that the state is trying to ensure compliance with fire NOC by visiting each non-compliant buildings and by noting from such visits what the lacking aspects are while “motivating” owners to do the needful “as early as possible so that fire NOC is in place.”
“The task is time consuming but we are doing it and thus we request that let the matter be kept at regular intervals, we are trying to show what progress we are achieving. We are not averse to this,” added Trivedi during the course of hearing.
The bench remarked, “There is nothing concrete which we see you have acted upon pursuant to observations of the SC and prima facie treating the notification as ultra vires… Fire NOC is part of BU permission, it cannot be divided.”
The notification being referred to by the court was one of July 8 brought out by the state government, wherein the state had notified that buildings that do not have valid building use permission, and/or are in breach of BU and/or have violated development control regulations, shall be exempt from the obligation to comply with the building control regulations for a period of three months from the last date of the applicability of the Gujarat Epidemic Diseases Covid-19 Regulations 2020 — which is December 2021.
This notification was however stayed by the Supreme Court last month. The apex court had further observed, “Granting exemptions from complying with development control regulations which are made in the public interest… defeats the letter and purpose of the legislation… The State of Gujarat shall take proactive steps to ensure that the rule of law is observed.”
Trivedi however informed the court that the state government’s survey suggests that “majority of buildings are not in a position to comply with BU (permit requirements)”.
When the bench enquired why the state is not being strict on cracking down on those who are non-compliant to fire NOC, the state counsel responded that they are indeed taking actions. Justice Anjaria said that the “rule of law has no emotions”, especially given the earlier observations of the SC.The court has kept the matters for further hearing on October 7.
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