Firecracker stalls blow safety measures to bits

The city is lit up in anticipation of the festival of lights, but the safety norms seem to have gone out the window in the hectic run-up to the celebrations. Many stalls selling firecrackers have been found breaching regulations issued by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) for safe storage and dispensation of the ware, thus imperiling customers and the vicinity in which they have set up shop.

The stalls, seen huddled together here, should be at least 10 feet apart. Pic/Krunal Gosavi

When MiD DAY surveyed a few licensed stalls to see if the rules laid down by the fire department of the civic body were being followed, we observed that shopkeepers were either not aware or least bothered about safety guidelines. To begin, the guidelines make it mandatory for each stall to have a full barrel of water. But we observed that there were no such containers. Asked about the lapse, the shopkeepers simply pointed at containers filled with drinking water alongside the stall.

As per rules, buyers are not allowed to test firecrackers in front of the stalls. Pic/Krunal Gosavi

No other fire-dousing equipment like fire extinguishers, or sand buckets, was found at the shops. First-aid boxes and other such emergency kits was blatantly absent. The rules also require that two stall maintain a minimum distance of 10 feet between them. But barely any vendors are fulfilling this requirement.

Mostly, the stalls were separated by five or so feet. This was particularly the case at spots on the Mutha riverbank near Bhide Bridge, which have been allotted to firecracker sellers by the PMC. These shops are just the ones officially allowed to conduct business. Other than them, many more fly-by-night shops have sprung up without valid licences, and keep moving from one place to another.

Fire officer says
Prashant Ranapise, chief officer, fire department, said that the precautionary guidelines are a must for stallholders. “The firecracker stalls are exclusively permitted by the PMC. The PMC has allotted 16-17 places around the city where these stalls can be set up during the festival. They have to take a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the fire department after executing these guidelines. The norms outline important fire safety measures (see box).”

He continued, “If the stallholders fail to follow any of these regulations, their licences would be terminated. To keep a check on whether the stalls are meeting these obligations, the fire station officer will make at least one round every day to the spots in his area and keep track of the situation. Through these rules, we hope to avoid any accidents during the festival.”

D R Langhe, assistant engineer, anti-encroachment department, PMC, said that the PMC hasn’t permitted temporary stalls in localities where they may pose a risk to general public safety. “Our department has not given permission for firecracker stalls to come up on roads or in dense locales with a lot of buildings. And a stall is allowed on private property only if it has concrete construction.”

“We have rolled out circulars to each and every ward office, asking them to see if any illegal installations have come up in their jurisdictions. If so, we would take appropriate action against the shops, along with the police department which is jointly responsible to grant permissions to the stalls. Rule breakers will face strict action such as cancellation of their licence or demolition of their stall.”

Hard to enforce law
Langhe detailed the difficulties that occur while acting against illegal stalls. “When we go on the spot to take action, we often get into a situation when four officials have to tackle a mob of hundred out to protest our action. It gets difficult for a handful of men to enforce law in face of such a mob. Sometimes, people give sentimental reasons and cite the auspiciousness of the occasion to persuade us to let them be. One finds it difficult to reason with them. We have our limitations but we do the best to maintain public safety,” said Langhe.

Key safety regulations that the shops must abide by:
Have water tanks and sand buckets handy in case of a blaze
Two stalls should be at least 10 feet apart from each other
Bar children or physically challenged persons from running the stalls
Stop customers from testing crackers in front of the stalls

Number of stalls allowed by the PMC to set up shop

Number of locations approved by the PMC where the stalls can come up

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