It is fortunate that no lives were lost in the blaze that gutted five shops during Diwali at the Janata Market at Turbhe, Navi Mumbai. Reports state that due to the market’s narrow lanes, fire brigade officials found it tough to douse the fire. There has been large-scale encroachment around the market, effectively shutting off exit and entry routes.
While one is talking about Turbhe’s Janata Market here, this particular incident could happen at any of the city’s markets. Most of them are accessed through narrow lanes, stalls jostle for space; and there is large-scale encroachment outside the markets, all along the main roads leading to the them. Many markets store inflammable material. Most if not all of them do not have fire fighting equipment inside. They are usually located in densely crowded areas and, of course, attract a huge number of shoppers especially during festival time. Stalls sell everything from groceries to clothes to household appliances and decorative items. Given the paucity of space in the city, these shops are tightly packed, right next to each other, ensuring that buyers also have to jostle for space. A fire in such a situation would be devastating because people would not have any way out. Even a call of fire would mean hordes of people trying to get out all at once, and a stampede is also not out of the question.
The areas outside markets also have a number of hawkers and other encroachments. It is time the authorities relocate hawkers to specially designated ‘Hawking Zones’ to free up these spaces.
While hawking zones may take time to be implemented and many of these structures cannot be rebuilt for fire engine access, at least some kind of fire fighting equipment should be kept inside markets. Shopkeepers could also keep firefighting equipment. Small equipment is available, which may not be able to douse huge blazes but could at least give them a few minutes to escape or even stop fires from spreading.
On Diwali, some shops were lost at the Turbhe market, the next time, it could be lives being lost at any of the markets in Mumbai.