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State of Fire safety standards in India

GS Paper 3

 Syllabus: Disaster Management

 

Source: BS

 

Context: Recent tragedies at a children’s hospital in Delhi and a gaming zone in Rajkot, claiming 34 lives, have underscored the state of safety standards in India.

 In the Delhi hospital fire, seven newborns died, and concerns were raised about illegal cylinder refilling. The Rajkot gaming zone fire, which killed 27, was due to an electrical short circuit.

 

Status of Fire Accidents in India: 

  1. In 2022, In India, 7,435 people were killed in over 7,500 fire accidents (NCRB report 2022).
  2. Maharashtra and Gujarat, our two most highly urbanised states, account for about 30% of the country’s fire accident deaths.
  3. The India Risk Surveys 2018has placed India in 3rd position in fire incidents. This signifies the grave risks of fire incidents to urban habitats.

 

Challenges in preventing fire outbreaks:

  1. Absence of uniform safety legislation: Fire services are managed by states, leading to inconsistencies in safety standards due to resource constraints at the municipal level.
  2. National Building Code of India, 2016: While it includes provisions for ‘Fire and Life Safety’ audits, these are only recommendatory, not mandatory.
  3. Inadequate Fire Services: There is a significant shortfall in the number of fire stations and personnel compared to what is required, as revealed by the Central Government’s reply in Parliament in 2019.
  4. Poor Compliance: Examples include a hospital in Delhi operating with an inadequate and expired license, lacking fire extinguishers and emergency doors, and an indoor gaming centre in Rajkot lacking a no-objection certificate and conducting welding work during business hours.
  5. Suboptimal government oversight: Weak inspections and rare follow-up actions after major disasters indicate critical shortcomings in oversight and regulatory enforcement.

 

Causes for increased vulnerability of Urban areas to Fire Hazards: 

  1. Rapid and unplanned urbanisation is becoming predominant, especially in Asia and Africa. This, in turn, increases the vulnerabilities to multiple hazards including a fire in especially urban agglomerations such as Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, etc.
  2. The high density of settlements resulted in narrow and constricted circulation spaces.
  3. Limited access to structures by firefighting equipment because of flouting of planning regulations; Narrow lanes that hinder quick response to fires.
  4. Settlements are made up of flammable materials; a small fire can become a conflagration
  5. High use of electrical equipment and machinery, faulty electric connections and gadget failures; Unsafe electric practices by residents.
    1. Past incidents show that most fire accidents take place majorly due to electrical short circuits and gas cylinder/stove bursts, human negligence, and ill-formed habits.

 

Notable incidents:

  • Uphaar cinema blaze in Delhi that killed 59 people in 1997.
  • Kumbakonam school fire in Tamil Nadu in 2004 in which 94 children died.
  • The Mumbai Kamala Mills fire in 2017 killed 14 people and injured many.
  • Fire in a Surat coaching centre in 2019 resulted in the death of more than 20 young people.
  • Ahmednagar Hospital fire tragedy where 11 COVID-19 patients lost their lives

 

Aspect of fire safety standards in India: 

AspectDetails
Fire Service AuthorityState subject and included in the XII schedule of the Constitution
Establishment of Fire ServicesMany states have established Fire & Emergency Services through statutory Acts
Legislation BasisActs based on the Model Fire Service Bill circulated by the Ministry of Home Affairs
Responsibility at the Local LevelMunicipal corporations and local bodies in some states are responsible for fire services
Fire Safety NormsNational Building Code -2016 serves as the basis for fire safety norms in India
Central Level MechanismsDirector-General of Civil Defense, Home Guards, & Fire Services under the Ministry of Home Affairs oversees fire management. Assisted by the Fire Adviser for deliberations. Standing Fire Advisory Committee provides inputs for improvement
Training and EducationNational Fire Service College, Nagpur provides training and education for fire service personnel

 

Initiatives Taken for Fire Safety:

  1. Scheme for Expansion and Modernization of Fire Services in the States: Launched by the Centre in 2023, aimed at strengthening fire services in the States until 2025-26.
  2. Model Bill to Provide for the Maintenance of Fire and Emergency Service for the State: Circulated by the Centre to facilitate the maintenance of fire and emergency services at the state level.
  3. National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) guidelines: NDMA has released guidelines covering scaling, types of equipment, and training for fire services across the country.

 

Roles and responsibilities of the government for risk mitigation:

  • Policy-driven planning:
    • A policy should be written to address cities that are expected to grow significantly in size in the near future.
    • Through this, cities should be required to reserve physical spaces for fire stations, fire hydrants, and fire lanes/parking spots, thus ensuring ready access.
  • Increasing the investment:
    • Growing high-rises in urban areas necessitate the procurement of specialised equipment for fire-fighting.
    • There must be continued investments in equipment and infrastructure to guarantee the safety of the citizens.
      • Sadly, the fire and disaster management budget for Mumbai has declined by 38% over 3 years to 2020.
    • Prevention measures:
      • Fire drills and evacuation drills should be conducted regularly in consultation with the city Fire Brigades and a log of the same shall be maintained.
      • Also, in Mumbai, for instance, often, buildings or shops that hold less than 50 people do not have fire code restrictions.
        • Such loopholes should be closed, ensuring clear guidelines for all kinds of establishments. Also, they should be actively enforced by the city governments.
      • Capacity building:
        • There is a considerable gap in the operational capabilities of fire and emergency services in Indian cities.
        • Measures needed in this regard include
          • Installation of firefighting systems
          • Restriction of cooking to designated spaces
          • The use of safer cooking energy sources and lighting means
          • Improvements in vehicle access routes to neighbourhoods
        • Focusing on residential buildings:
          • Most fire-related fatalities happen in residential buildings; 58% of the fatalities in 2019. In contrast, around 2% of fatalities were in factories.
          • So, the focus has to be on residential buildings in order to cut down on both accidents and related fatalities.
          • Here, proper implementation of the National Building Code (NBC) of 2016 that sets out guidelines has to be ensured. E.g.,
            1. Carrying out a fire safety audit in all buildings over 15 metres once in 2 years by an independent entity.
            2. Constructing the building with fire-resistant/retardant materials and installing smoke detection systems and fire alarms.
  • Fire compartmentalisation (area/floor wise) should be made mandatory to restrict the spread of fire through horizontal and vertical spaces.
  1. Once electrical and fire installations are in place, they should be certified by authorised persons and agencies.
  • Ensuring easy access:
    • There have to be dedicated access lanes for the quick movement of emergency vehicles.
    • Under the Smart Cities Mission, ‘smart control rooms’ should be able to guide emergency vehicles through the shortest route and enable coordination among various departments.

 

 

Measures needed at the civilian level:

  • Awareness generation:
    • In schools, the curriculum should have a chapter on fire safety.
      • Regular drills should be conducted so that children are prepared to handle such incidents.
    • Communities managing housing and commercial premises need to regularly organise awareness programmes with assistance from authorised persons and agencies.
      • These need to be not only on fire safety but also on other disasters such as earthquakes and floods.
    • Community-based fire risk management:
      • Local communities should be actively engaged in the identification, analysis, treatment, monitoring, and evaluation of fire risks to reduce their vulnerabilities and enhance their capacity.
    • Capacity building at the root level:
      • Efficient communication links should be established between civilian groups in vulnerable areas and city fire brigades.
      • The social and informal networks within the settlement should be capitalised for rescue and assistance during fire outbreaks.
        • For this to work effectively, the fire hydrants existing within the settlement’s boundaries should be kept in working condition through regular monitoring, and necessary replacements will have to be made.

 

Conclusion

India and all countries around the world must see the importance of fire safety when building and extending cities. It is high time safety is taken seriously and violators are brought to book. An integrated mechanism involving government players and the community could go a long way in reducing risks and bringing down fatalities.

 

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