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31 Dec 2017

Could the Kamala Mills fire have been prevented?

Mumbai's man-made fire tragedies

The immediate aftermath of the Kamala Mills Complex blaze was the usual: BMMC launched inspections, sealed premises and demolished establishments flouting fire safety norms.

It is notable that Mumbai saw a high number of fire incidents this year.

Some common denominators are blatant disregard for safety norms and indifference of the authorities.

Could the latest tragedy have been prevented with some care?

In context

Mumbai's man-made fire tragedies


Several cases of fire in Mumbai in recent times

In the last months, major fires broke out in different places: at the RK Studios, a shop in Saki Naka, La Mer building in Bandra, an under-construction building in Juhu, and the Behrampada slums in Bandra.

Most cases were due to violation of norms. In the Kamala Mills incident, the 1Above restaurant, where the blaze erupted, didn't even have a fire exit.

Establishments breaking laws left, right and center

Most cases were similar: fire safety guidelines weren't followed at RK Studios in Chembur, the shop at Saki Naka was illegally constructed, the fire-fighting system at La Mer was defunct, and several gas cylinders and combustible material was found at the Berhampada slums.

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The authorities aren't doing their part either

Violation of norms by the authorities is also clear. For example, fire audits are supposed to be conducted twice yearly. Fire-retardant material has to be used for upholstery.

But there's no follow-up on whether such norms are being abided by.

During 2010-16, the fire brigade issued notices to 4,592 buildings for unsafe constructions, but took action against only 14.

Kamala Mills incident raises even more questions on authorities


Kamala Mills incident raises even more questions on authorities

The 1Above incident raises questions. There was criticism over the "farcical" action as municipal officials insisted on live coverage of the "drive".

However, they couldn't explain why 1Above hadn't faced action despite getting notice before, nor how they took such quick action now when they consistently blame "long procedures and political pressures".

Interestingly, 1Above had got a fire NOC five days before the blaze.


Every death due to man-made fires has to be avoided

Contrary to Kamala Mills, there was no hullabaloo when 12 laborers died at the Saki Naka fire sometime ago. There was no attention from politicians either.

A senior fire official describes the situation: "With having to answer over 17,000 fire-related calls in a year, administrative work is relegated to the backburner."

But stringent implementation of norms will be essential to check such incidents.

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