INDIA’s COMMERCIAL capital will now have a dedicated wing for fire safety audits. A day after one of the most devastating fire tragedies to hit the city in recent times, the Mumbai municipality has decided to urgently overhaul the fire brigade and conduct fire audits more regularly.
“While the city’s fire fighting infrastructure is very good, we have not put in place a system for regular fire safety audits,” admitted Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta. The plan is to split the Mumbai fire brigade, started in 1885, into two separate authorities — one wing of fire fighters and a second for issuing permissions and compliance to construction projects.
Currently, the two wings are not separate and Mehta believes that separating them will allow the fire brigade to conduct audits more regularly. “The first (wing) will only fight fires, while the second one will be responsible for the inspection of permissions before issuing fire NOCs, and also ensuring the compliance of fire safety norms,” Mehta said.
On Friday, a fire at 1Above rooftop facility in the Kamala Mills Compound in Lower Parel claimed 14 lives. Initial investigations have shown that fire safety regulators had failed to detect violations of fire safety norms at the site. Following Friday’s incident, Mehta had suspended an assistant divisional fire officer, along with four other civic officials pending inquiry on whether lapses on their part had led to the tragedy.
Experts said the civic body’s plan to split fire services into two is a messy but necessary breakthrough. They also said the plan is not without political risks.
It involves empanelment of private fire service providers for overseeing fire compliance and audits. But even urban planners concede that regular audits and inspections for fire safety had become a top priority area for Mumbai to address, with several old buildings being retrofitted to modern day high-rises.
In central Mumbai, which has transformed into a retail and entertainment hub, experts said regular fire safety audits were a must, with constructions flourishing in areas with narrow access and lanes. “Regular audits will now be ensured. We will finalise the template within 10 days,” Mehta said. He added that the government is also planning to engage with hotels and retail chains to ensure that they conduct mock drills and train staffers in fire mitigation measures.
The Mumbai municipality also plans to make it mandatory for all eateries and watering holes to display their fire compliance certificates prominently at the facilities.