THE CHANDIGARH fire department seems to be struggling to ensure fire safety at all the high-rise buildings of the city. Despite issuing more than 200 letters to 135 buildings over a period of two years, there is no improvement in fire safety norms; the lapses the fire department pointed out continue to be there even today.
Despite conveying in the past, the building which houses the offices of Director School Education still has no fire safety measure. According to details with the fire department, fire safety equipment here is either not in place or it is out of order. All the fire extinguishers installed on the premises are past their expiry date. Neither the alarm systems are working nor the sensors are operational.
In the building of Chandigarh Police headquarters, most of the extinguishers are expired and have to be refilled. There are leakages in the hosepipes as well.
The Punjab and Haryana Civil Secretariat buildings too which house the offices of chief ministers of both the states, ministers and sees hundreds of visitors daily, were conveyed the shortcomings twice last year. In 2015, too, a letter conveying the lapses in automatic fire detection and alarm system, hose reel, hydrants were conveyed to them but to no avail. Similar violations were found at Punjab and Haryana Vidhan Sabha, UT Secretariat, different blocks of PGIMER and Panjab University.
A senior officer of the fire department asserts that with regard to government buildings, they are helpless and “avoid sending notices”. “We don’t even send them notices. We send only letters to government buildings. There is top brass sitting there after all,” says the officer.
After a notice is sent to the place where the fire safety is lacking, the party files a reply. “By the time hearing takes place at the office of chief fire officer, the owner fulfills the requirements for the time being,” says a station fire officer requesting anonymity.
Has any building been sealed for not fulfilling fire safety requisites till now? “Five to six years ago, we sealed the premises of a coaching institute in Sector 34 and after their appeal with CFO was rejected, they moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court and we were reprimanded for not giving sufficient time. Since then we have been avoiding sealing the premises,” adds the fire officer.
Then CFO had asked his subordinates to initiate action but nothing was done.
Finding serious lapses in the firefighting system of coaching institutes, schools, colleges and several buildings of the city in an inspection, the then chief fire officer Virender Chaudhary had directed all the station fire officers to put everybody on notice and take action as it was meant for the safety of people.
The communique by the joint commissioner, who was also the chief fire officer, to the station fire officers had said, “In compliance with the instructions received from Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, it was ordered to inspect all coaching institutes, schools, colleges, nursing homes, hotels, restaurants in UT Chandigarh. However, after scrutiny of the inspection reports submitted by the station fire officers, it is observed that there is inadequacy of the requisite firefighting equipment as per National Building Code 2005 installed by majority of owners or occupants of the buildings.”
Colour coding system
The then joint commissioner, who was also the CFO, had brought in a project of colour coding wherein green, yellow or red boards were to be fixed outside buildings to indicate whether these meet the fire safety norms. The project was adopted from Hyderabad but it did not take off.
A green board meant that the building has sufficient firefighting measures to handle emergencies. Yellow will depict that the building is partially equipped and thus partially compliant whereas red will signify that the building is totally ill-equipped to handle fire emergencies. After eight cinema owners were sent notices when serious irregularities were found in their firefighting arrangements that the project of colour coding was mooted. However, after the CFO gave one month’s time to everybody saying that they would install red boards outside their buildings, the cinema owners immediately sent a compliance report.
The colour coding was to be implemented in December 2015 but the project never saw the light of day.