Every day, firemen risk their lives and the well-being of themselves and their families to ensure that every citizen, from a slum dweller to those living in palatial houses, remains safe.
Kalbadevi building fire: Mumbai firemen who died in blaze laid to rest
They are called in to handle everything from fires to water rescues, from fallen trees to building collapses. They are dubbed heroes when the going is good, and martyrs when they die in the line of duty.
Until last year, the BMC also did not have a mechanism to get firemen treated in private hospitals even if public hospitals were far away, with the civic body once having gone to the extent of prosecuting an ambulance driver for taking an injured fireman to a private hospital. File Pic
But lift the veil and look beyond the lip service, and an ugly truth rears its head.
Mumbai’s firemen, in the employ of the country’s richest civic body, are given no insurance scheme to pay for their hospitalisation when they are injured while doing their duty.
Until last year, the BMC also did not have a mechanism to get firemen treated in private hospitals even if public hospitals were far away, with the civic body having gone to the extent of prosecuting an ambulance driver for taking an injured fireman to a private hospital.
And when they are martyred, like three firemen were in the Gokul Niwas collapse last week, the compensation is allegedly not enough to meet the needs of their families. Firemen allege that when the compensation does arrive, usually after several appeals and reminders, the figure is lower than expected
“People are shocked when we tell them we don’t have any insurance cover or mediclaim. But it is the sad truth of our profession,” said Additional Divisional Fire Officer Vishwajit Nikam.
Firefighters carrying out rescue operations at Kalbadevi during the blaze at 33 Gokul Niwas building earlier this month
“When I was injured while on duty at Nariman Point in 1992, there was no BMC hospital nearby and the ambulance driver took me to the private Bombay Hospital at the time. He did that to save my life, but the fire brigade prosecuted him! They filed a chargesheet against him for saving my life. It was only after I intervened and stated that he had taken me there on my orders were the charges dropped,” said Nikam, adding that he had paid R1 lakh from his own pocket for his treatment at the time.
Something similar happened with fireman Abhay Mohite, who died after being injured in a tree falling incident in Nariman Point while he was on duty in 2008.
“When my brother was taken to Bombay Hospital after his injury, they had refused to admit him because we did not have money to pay for his treatment. Deputy Chief Fire Officer Sudhir Amin, who passed away on Thursday from injuries sustained in last week’s Kalbadevi blaze, had given R1 lakh from his own pocket. This led to a delay of 30 minutes, which may have led to his death. The smart card scheme started by the BMC recently should be made into a law so that it will not be discontinued again,” said Mohite’s sister, Kavita Sangrulkar.
Assistant Divisional Fire Office S D Sawant said that the BMC had proposed an insurance cover for firemen several times in the past, but the scheme failed to take off.
Not spared even in death
Firemen say the compensation given to the kin of martyrs is not enough. In the case of M N Rane and S W Desai, for instance, both of whom died in the Kalbadevi blaze, the families have been given a compensation of Rs 16 lakh approximately.
Last rites of firefighters M.N. Desai and S.W. Rane, who perished in the fire that engulfed 33 Gokul Niwas building at Kalbadevi earlier this month. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
“The amount will barely meet their living expenses for a few years,” said a fireman. Although Desai’s wife has been promised a job, there are several firemen who have been neglected over the years.
On July 18, 2014, a fireman, Nitin Yeolekar, had passed away from injuries sustained in the Lotus Park fire. His wife had to fight for his rights for the sake of herself and her two children, aged two and seven.
“I was given a job in two months but they were not giving me enough compensation. This was appalling since my husband had died in the line of duty. The fire brigade offered me just Rs 3 lakh initially, but after I struggled, I was offered Rs 18 lakh. It took six months to actually get the money. Now I have to fight for his provident fund money. I haven’t received it yet. I had to approach more than six times to start disbursing the pension, and it was started only two months ago,” Shubhangi Yeolekar said.
Umesh Rupavate, another fireman, was injured on duty in 2012 in Masjid Bunder. His family had to go through a similar ordeal. His sister Lata Berde said, “I was the oldest daughter. When Umesh passed away, the BMC had declared Rs 25 lakh as compensation and my mother was to get pension. But since Umesh was unmarried, we were denied all of this under the pretext that he did not have any dependents. His file was shut, but all of us, including our parents were dependent on him.”
“After Yeolekar passed away, however, my brother’s case was reconsidered and we were given Rs 14 lakh as compensation instead of the promised R25 lakh. Our younger brother Mangesh was given a job in the BMC. But pension and provident fund was not provided. You call these firemen martyrs, but this is how you treat their families!” an agitated Berde said.
The amount given to firemen as risk allowance per month
Mumbai Firefighters’ Service Union leader secretary Rajaram Dhuri said, “When firemen are taken to a BMC hospital, we have to stand in queues for medicines and other formalities. Even the department ambulances for injured firemen are available only till Mulund and Dahisar, after which they have to find their own transport. Till 2008, we had a risk allowance of R50, which was increased to R500 a month. We have demanded that it be made 30 per cent of basic pay, but the administration has not budged.”
The treatment cost for deputy CFO Sudhir Amin, who died on Thursday, is Rs 2.9 lakh while that of CFO Sunil Nesarikar is Rs 3.79 lakh till now. So far, the BMC has paid Rs 1 lakh each.
The other side
“Yes, it is true that the BMC does not pay for treatment in private hospitals. But now we have come out with an insurance scheme for firemen. A consultant has been appointed and a survey of firemen has been conducted. The proposal has been passed in the standing committee also,” said S S Shinde, joint commissioner, BMC.
The proposal will now have to be passed in the BMC’s general assembly and only after it is signed by the municipal commissioner will it come into effect.
The BMC’s budget for the current financial year. It is the country’s richest civic body.