With six major fire incidents in the past ten days in Ludhiana’s industrial area, the fire department has carried out an investigation to reveal that not a single building had fire safety arrangements or no-objection certificates. However, the police or the fire department have failed to book any factory owner for negligence yet. Till date, no FIR has been registered even though the fire at Parasnath wool factory killed three persons of one family.
In a detailed conversation with The Sunday Express, Surjit Singh, Assistant Divisional Fire Officer (ADFO) in Ludhiana, said that the fire department’s probe clearly shows that all five incidents were results of negligence and had fire safety arrangements been there, the losses could have been minimised.
“None of these factories/buildings gutted in the past ten days had NOCs or fire safety arrangements. Even the laborers and other workers were working in hazardous conditions and they had no way to escape or save themselves,” he said.
Asked if any action has been taken against the owners, ADFO clearly said that “their hands are tied in the absence of any law to book them.”
“The new Punjab Fire Safety Measures and Prevention Act framed in 2012 is yet to be implemented. We do not have any set rules to follow and it is still pending with the Punjab government. We cannot seal any building, book any owner or issue any notice till we get a copy of the rules,” said ADFO.
Asked why the fire department did not recommend registration of any FIR in case of three deaths on April 26, he said, “The police were present on the spot. It is their responsibility to file an FIR in case of death. The three persons of a Nepal-based family were living in deplorable condition in a small room and had no way to escape. There wasn’t even a fan. They should have registered an FIR immediately as they also have post mortem reports of the deceased.”
“We have filed inquest proceedings under section 174 of CrPC. No FIR has been registered as forensic lab report is still awaited to know the exact reason of fire,” said Davinder Singh, SHO of division number 6 police station.
The fire department probe further says that as per National Building Code of India, the gutted establishments flouted rules and never bothered to get any fire safety arrangements. “Had the new Act been implemented and its rules given to us, we could have sent the culprit to jail for three months and impose a fine of Rs 50,000,” said one fire department official.
“Factories are flouting other norms too. The district administration is suposed to keep a check on these factories. The fire in most of cases spread because of flammable materials like oil, chemicals and plastic. Our three firemen have been seriously injured too because fire went beyond control due to these hazardous material,” added the ADFO.
‘Of 16 fire tenders, 10 running illegally’
Shockingly, Ludhiana, which reports 300-400 major fires a year, has only 16 fire tenders of which 10 are running illegally. There is requirement of at least 33 tenders and 500 firemen keeping in view a population of 35 lakh.
“Of 16 fire tenders we have, only six are new and ten are outdated. As per Fire Advisory Council, a fire tender should not be older than ten years and as per Punjab state transport rules, it cannot be older than fifteen years. However, our ten fire tenders are nearly 18-year-old. Then even hose pipes leak and are insufficient. We need at least 500 firemen but there are only 103 including officials. There are no hydraulic ladders and there is an extreme shortage of mechanical foam, which is a pre-requisite to extinguish industrial fires. This is the state of Ludhiana’s fire department, which gets 950 fire calls a year of which 300-400 are major ones,” said ADFO Surjit Singh.
Fire dept in a mess, says MC chief
Ludhiana MC chief Jaskiran Singh said that the fire department is indeed in a mess but it is being sorted out. “I have written to the Director of Local Bodies Department that we have only six fire tenders in working state and ten are almost junk. We need at least 400 more firemen. State government is in the process of making a separate directorate for the fire department and new rules are also awaited. The new buildings being set up are not taking NOCs and fire cess rates are not uniform. I have written about all these issues. Some plastic bag factories are still running despite ban and we will send notices to them soon,” he claimed.