No fire safety clearance for Delhi’s puja pandals

By Sahil Makkar, IANS

New Delhi : If you are planning to attend religious gatherings or visiting any of the hundreds of puja pandals (marquees) this festive season, then think twice – for most of them have no fire safety clearance.

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On a day that a Durga puja marquee caught fire in Chittaranjan Park’s Pocket 40 gutting it completely, the capital’s fire department said that Delhi Police had not told it to recommend fire safety inspections at such crowded places.

Delhi fire chief R.C. Sharma said: “Deputy Commissioner of Police (Licensing) Arun Kampani has written a letter to us that they are not recommending inspections at any of the religious functions being held in the capital, but the fire department may take action on its own.”

However, Sharma added that the fire department could give a No Objection Certificate but only after a formal police request.

“As per the laws, we are not authorised to go to any of the pandals or religious places and check the fire fighting equipment installed there on our own. We only act as per the request forwarded by the civic agencies, police or the event organisers,” Sharma told IANS.

According to the fire chief, the department had in its reply to Kampani “clearly mentioned that since police are not recommending that the fire department inspect places of religious gathering, so, as per the law, we are not taking any action on our own”.

When asked, Delhi Police spokesperson Rajan Bhagat told IANS: “For granting licence to fairs and joyride events, the fire brigade department had written to us that if a pandal had no inflammable material then a No Objection Certificate was not required.”

During the festive season – for Dussehra and Durga Puja – the capital sees a few thousand marquees sprout up in every nook and corner of the city where community Durga puja celebrations and Ram Lilas are held. The pandals are always swarming with hundreds and thousands of people.

According to fire department officials, the marquees are vulnerable to catching fire as they are built with bamboo and cloth, and decorated with inflammable material.

“The lighting and electric arrangements should be handled and inspected very cautiously every time.”

“A fire spreads in no time in such structures and, what is more dangerous is that they are erected very close to homes. The roads during festival time are congested and it delays the fire fighting work.”

The blaze at the Pocket 40 Navapalli Puja broke out at 4 a.m. reportedly damaged some cars parked nearby. Fortunately no one was injured in the blaze.

Seven fire tenders were pressed into service and the blaze was extinguished after 45 minutes. The fire fighting officials had to struggle to reach the spot as the roads leading to the pandal were blocked due to security precautions.

The cause of the fire could not be ascertained. However, a fire official said the inferno had spread from the kitchen area of the pandal where the ‘bhog’ (holy offering) was being prepared for Maha Ashtami Puja Friday.

“The fire could have spread to nearby houses as the pandal is centrally located and is close to houses all around it,” a fire official at the spot said.

Tapan Acharya, a local resident, said: “I have not seen any fire extinguisher in the pandal.”

But Asim Banerjee, president of the organising committee of much-frequented B Block Chittaranjan Park, said: “Though we have not taken any No Objection Certificate from the fire department, we have installed at least 25 fire extinguishers in our pandal. We would also welcome if the police come up with any new advisory after the Pocket 40 fire incident.”