Mumbai Fire Brigade has no tab on buildings without NOCs

RTI activist finds out that the fire department has no data on the number of highrises in the city — the worst culprits when it comes to flouting safety norms — which don’t have an NOC. Fire department says there are 2.98 lakh properties in the island city alone. “It’s a gigantic task for us to centralise this data. We will do it over a period of time,” a senior fire officer told sunday mid-day

The Mumbai Fire Brigade does not have data on the buildings in the city that do not have the mandatory no-objection certificate (NOC) from their department. This raises doubts over the fire brigade’s capacity to prosecute defaulters for want of the necessary compliances.

Also read: Mumbai Fire Brigade falls behind on Central norms

After a major fire broke out at Andheri’s Lotus Business Park on July 18 last year, the  BMC found that it had flouted several safety norms. File pic for representation only
After a major fire broke out at Andheri’s Lotus Business Park on July 18 last year, the  BMC found that it had flouted several safety norms. File pic for representation only

According to the 1991 Development Control Regulations, every new construction above 24 metres is supposed to get an NOC which is given after verifying whether the building has fire-fighting equipment, the width of the entry point and the gap between two buildings, among other factors.

Fire at a MHADA building in Borivli in February. File pic
Fire at a MHADA building in Borivli in February. File pic

Every new construction needs an NOC from the fire brigade before and after construction. Only then are these structures given the commencement certificate (CC) and occupation certificate (OC).

No data
When activist Jeetendra Ghadge filed an RTI (Right to Information) with the fire brigade asking for the number of constructions in the city without NOCs, he was told that “the data is not available.” “How can they not maintain a ward-wise register to check if a building has an NOC or not?,” said Ghadge.

The activist had also asked for names and addresses of buildings which have an occupation certificate from the BMC despite not complying with norms. But, the fire brigade could not give him this information and, instead asked him to furnish city survey numbers of specific buildings for this data.

On the number of owners and occupants of such errant structures who have been prosecuted, the RTI reply said, “This information is too vast, its collection work is in process. It will be shortly informed to you.”

“As per the DCR, we inspect buildings constructed after 1991 but do not maintain any record of the total number of buildings in the city which do not have an NOC, either before 1991 or after,” said A V Kale, public information officer (city) of the fire brigade.

Even the BMC does not seem to keep data of each and every building in the city. “We don’t keep records of buildings shorter than 24 metres because they don’t require the fire brigade NOC. Also, since the rules came in 1991, it is very difficult to maintain records of every existing building.

There are thousands of buildings in the city. It will be very tedious to maintain their records. Rather, old buildings should be surveyed periodically at the ward level,” said a senior official from the BMC’s building proposal department.

Brigade speak
The fire brigade maintains that the NOC is not a prerequisite for prosecution. “According to the Fire Act of 2008, each and every structure in the city must fulfil the minimum fire-fighting norms. If they don’t, we can prosecute them. Just because they have an NOC does not mean we will not prosecute them.

Prosecution is based on inspection, which our officers do on a daily basis because they have targets to meet. Then, the owners or occupants of the building are given 30 days to comply with the norms before further action,” informed a senior official of the fire brigade, requesting anonymity.

When asked why isn’t the data available, he said, “There are 2.98 lakh properties in the island city alone which may be residential, commercial, industrial etc. It’s a gigantic task for us to centralise this data. We will do it over time.”

Andheri tower blaze: Fire department is playing with fire, and lives

Chief Fire Officer (incumbent charge) P S Rahangdale said, “We don’t have any control over the buildings shorter than 24 metres. And in case of buildings constructed before 1991, if we find that a building does not comply with existent norms, they are given fresh norms to comply with. However, buildings shorter than 24 metres, are not covered under us.”

Previous fire cases

Gokul Niwas, Kalbadevi (May 9)
Cause: Short circuit
Fallout: Four firemen died including CFO Sunil Nesarikar
Didn't have NOC from fire department.

Lotus Business Park, Andheri (July 18)
Cause: Defective electric circuit in the central server room on 20th floor.
Fallout: One fireman dead, 20 injured.
BMC's fire department cancelled the no objection certificate.

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