Had the Lotus Business Park followed fire safety norms and had the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) ensured it had done so, perhaps, the lone fireman who died, Nitin Ivalekar, would have been alive today.
While the fire brigade managed to bring the flames under control by evening, it was a Herculean task for them, what with the non-functional fire hydrants and a lack of refuge area.
When the fire brigade reached the spot to douse the fire, they were shocked to find that the building lacked a refuge area — the area where people who are evacuated from the building wait while the fire is brought under control.
Besides this, the hydrants in the building were not connected to water supply. Additional water tankers had to be ordered to make use of the hydrants. Additionally, fighters found the passages blocked by material stored in the various offices.
Questions arise over how the no-objection certificate (NOC) was issued in the first place, even though these norms had been flouted. A fire official, on request of anonymity, said, “There are issues with various high-rises in the city. There was no fire audit conducted for the building. Had we known this, we could’ve sent a notice for conducting one.”
Every building needs to conduct a fire audit of its structure twice a year and submit the report to the fire department of the BMC, to ensure the equipment is in working condition. Hardly do citizens comply with this rule. Neither does the fire department send them the necessary notices when they falter on this requirement.
There are also about 83 designated fire officers who carry out separate inspections of buildings, after which the building gets a notice to comply with regulations within 120 days. This, too, is rarely done.
Opposition leader in the BMC, Devendra Amberkar, has asked the BMC to take note of the issue and also ordered a probe into whether there were serious construction violations by the building and how it received NOCs and OCs.
NGOs and activists said the fire department didn’t keep a check on whether fire audits were being conducted regularly.
“In the past, the glass façade has caused various issues. BMC guidelines are hardly adhered to, and the BMC and fire department still issue NOCs and OCs to various high-rises to clear various proposals,” said Nitai Mehta, founder, Praja Foundation.
Ashok Pandit, a local activist, added, “The fire department hardly bothers to check about fire audits; the NOC needs to be renewed every six months and is hardly done in our city. The fire department is responsible for issuing NOCs, but it usually avoids the stipulated guidelines to clear files.”
Sanjay Deshmukh, additional municipal commissioner, said, “This was an unfortunate incident. We will scan all documents to determine whether fire audits were conducted and, if not, what was the action taken.
The BMC will take this seriously and a series of serious actions will be taken on the owners of the building for the faulty and non-operational equipment.”