The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has slashed Mumbai Fire Brigade’s budgetary provision for capital expenditure for 2020-21 by up to 50 per cent despite the department struggling with infrastructure shortage amid growing incidents of fire.
Last week, Additional Municipal Commissioner P Velrasu told the Standing Committee, during a discussion on the GST Bhavan fire, that Mumbai has about four lakh buildings and, with the current strength of the fire brigade, it is not possible to inspect every building for fire safety compliance.
Chief Fire Officer P S Rahangdale too highlighted the lack of infrastructure by stating that Mumbai needs 70 fire stations against the current 35.
On February 4, the BMC presented a budget of Rs 33,441 crore for 2020-21. For Mumbai Fire Brigade, the budgetary provision for capital expenditure is Rs 104.45 crore, slashed steeply from Rs 201.43 crore in 2019-20. One of the major reasons for the cut was poor expenditure by the department in the last fiscal, BMC officials said. Until December 2019, the fire brigade managed to spend just 9 per cent of its capital expenditure, according to documents. In 2018, the fire brigade spent about 24 per cent of its capital expenditure (till December 2018) by purchasing new vehicles, machinery and equipment.
”After the Kamala Mills fire the inquiry committee and fire brigade union had pointed out several new challenges for the fire brigade like increasing number of highrises, an ever-growing population, congested areas like slums, industrial and chemical plants. One of the immediate measures suggested by the committee was to form a fire compliance cell for dedicated inspections. It has been implemented, still manpower and new fire stations pose challenges,” a BMC official said.
This year, the fire brigade has proposed to upgrade its wireless department with DMR (Digital Mobile Radio) and infrastructure by purchasing turntable ladder vans, drones and quick response vehicles; and setting up drill towers and a multi-utility training simulator. Last year, the civic body purchased hazmat vans to fight chemical and biochemical attacks, fire robots and GIS and GPS enabled vehicles.
”There are two reasons for curtailing the budget. The provision has been made as per requirement and whatever can be spent. If there is a need for more funds, then provision can be made in October when we revise the budget estimate. For the last few years, we are focusing to make budgetary provisions that can be used to keep it realistic. Also, the ‘poor’ expenditure of last year is because payment for many contractors is still under process,” a senior BMC official said.
In the last one year (January 1 to December 31, 2019), the disaster management cell received 5,254 complaints related to fire, reveals a reply to a RTI request filed by activist Shakeel Shaikh. Thirty-eight people lost their lives due to fire-related incidents. “Mumbai’s population is rising day by day. Apart from fire calls, fire fighters are called for tree falls, gas leakage, bird rescues, building collapses. This has overburdened them and the authorities need to take measures to strengthen the department,” Shaikh said.
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