After Uphaar, 2,500 more fire traps in Delhi

By Sahil Makkar, IANS

New Delhi : The Uphaar fire 10 years ago still smoulders. But things have got no better in the years since the cinema hall tragedy with more than 2,500 high-rise buildings in the capital awaiting a similar fate.

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“Since January, we have sent notices to 2,506 building owners or authorities for violating security norms prescribed under the fire safety acts,” said Deputy Fire Chief A.K. Sharma.

The issue of fire safety is back in the spotlight with the Uphaar verdict that has found building barons Sushil and Gopal Ansal and 10 others guilty for the fire that killed 59 people in June 1997.

The capital’s fire service department, which issues a no-objection certificate related to fire security, says the buildings that have been issued notices include homes that have flouted mandatory rules.

“Despite serving notices to violators, people are not willing to install necessary fire fighting equipment in the buildings and the matter ends up reaching the court. Some buildings are in the narrowest and busiest lanes of the capital and an emergency could prove unmanageable,” Sharma told IANS.

Seven such cases, including Chawla Jewellers in Karol Bagh, APJ Satya House in Masjid Moth and Building No. 2 in Rajendra Place, are pending before various courts.

Just last week, the Delhi High Court had slapped a fine of Rs.150,000 on the Allahabad Bank’s Parliament Street branch for not installing fire safety equipment in its building despite an undertaking given to the court two years ago.

The fine was imposed on a petition by the bank challenging a decision of the Delhi Fire Service to disconnect the water and power supply to its building.

In this grim scenario of a disaster waiting to happen, cinema halls provide the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

“To the best of my knowledge, no cinema hall or theatre is operating without licence and other obligatory clearances. The Uphaar tragedy has left behind unforgettable lessons and we have learnt from failure. We have already upgraded all mechanisms and systems to avoid any such incident in the future,” Sharma said.

“Before the Uphaar accident, reviews of safety measures were not held once licences were issued to the theatres. Now we visit each hall every quarter and ensure that security norm is in place,” he added.

He said a team of Delhi Fire Service, Delhi Police, land and building department and civic agencies scrutinise fire-fighting equipment like water nozzles, water tanks, extinguishers, and glowing exit signboards inside the halls.

Special attention is also paid to the emergency exit doors.

If only the other buildings follow suit now!