The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Foot the bill to battle the blaze

New York has not done it, nor has London, not to speak of desi cousins Mumbai and Delhi. But Calcutta has decided to raise its fire-fighting costs from the market.

The state fire services department will charge owners and occupants of commercial and industrial establishments for dousing the flames. Spokespersons for the London and New York fire services departments, as also their counterparts in Mumbai and Delhi, have termed the move as defying market logic.

“Citizens already pay a range of civic taxes for the public services they get,” London fire services department spokesperson Barbara Hyde said. “Why should they pay for something they are legally entitled to'” she asked. New York Fire Department spokespersons echoed Hyde. NYFD does not charge any money for putting out flames, as it falls within the duties of the state, they added.

The state fire services department, ill-equipped to fight even small industrial fires, is far from dissuaded. The department, where physically unfit and ageing workers regularly complain of discomfort and injury while fighting the blaze — the latest instance being at the Indian Oil installation in Budge Budge — is now working overtime to get the Bill to the Assembly.

The Bill, seeking to amend certain sections of the Fire Services Act, 1950, and incorporate clauses to generate funds by charging for fire-fighting operations in commercial and industrial establishments, will be placed in the Assembly in the coming session, fire services department secretary R.K. Prasannan said.

“We will prepare an estimate of the extent of damage wrought by the fire which our men have been able to put out and then, we will try to ascertain the value of the portion that has not been damaged,” he said. “The average of the two estimates will be billed to the owner of the establishment,” Prasannan explained.

He also dismissed the notion that fire-fighting was an essential service for which the tax-payer has already paid. “The taxes are for clearly-defined services,” he said, citing civic taxes charged by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) for its services. “If the CMC can levy charges on the services it renders, what is the harm in levying charges for putting out fires'” he asked.

Fire services director Baren Sen said the main purpose of levying a cost on fire-fighting was to put the “fear of god in commercial and industrial houses” to compel them to take adequate fire-safety measures. “Fire-safety arrangements and electrical wiring in most establishments are primitive and prone to fire,” he added.

Fire minister Pratim Chatterjee admitted that many firemen lacked proper training and said that the department did not have adequate manpower or resources. “There is provision for a refresher course for firemen, but we have been forced to discontinue it, as there is no one to train them,” Chatterjee said.

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