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Fire exposes burning issues

The fire that ravaged the Mantralaya in Mumbai may or may not have been avoided, but the constraints in the rescue effort proved that the state’s top ministers and bureaucrats not only showed lack of awareness of fire safety but there was complete disdain for installing even the most basic equipment to either prevent fire or to rescue people in the event of one.

A classic example of this indifference is how it allegedly took an hour for the Mumbai Fire Brigade to clear official cars parked right at the entrance to the building instead of at their allotted parking spots. This meant that the fire tenders were present but lost precious minutes before they could begin the rescue operations or douse the fire. There was just no space for them to station themselves and operate their hoses or snorkels.

As a result, five people died. All five were avoidable deaths.

Who, then, is responsible for these deaths, and for the irretrievable damage caused to the state with the loss of thousands of files?

This tragedy is a wake-up call for not just the high-ranking officials, but for everybody. Although there are established rules for parking of vehicles — official or otherwise — they are only observed rarely, if ever.

Compare this to any world class city where there are established protocols and practices, which are observed to the tee. While it is admirable that Mumbai has aspirations to become a global business and tourist destination, it cannot hope to achieve this dream if fundamentals such as fire safety are not observed. Indeed, what confidence will anyone have about a city where its most important government building is not safe?

The chief fire officer, in coordination with state government and BMC, must initiate an immediate fire safety audit and implement the findings in all buildings. Only then will lives be saved.

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