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April arrival for fire-fight fee

Come April, and owners will have to cough up a hefty amount in case of a fire in a commercial establishment, located in the city or elsewhere in Bengal.The Marxist government, in a pioneering move, will impose fire service charges on “high-risk” buildings housing business establishments.

The move follows Governor Viren J. Shah’s nod for the West Bengal Fire Services (Amendment) Act, 2002, which was passed by the state Assembly in the winter session. “Ours will be the first state to impose a fire service charge on commercial establishments,” asserted fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee on Wednesday. The charges will be imposed on two counts. First, to force the owners to take adequate fire-preventive measures in their high-risk buildings and second, to mop up revenue for the funds-starved department.

Chatterjee believes people will be compelled to adopt fire-safety measures if they are asked to pay the fire brigade to douse the flames in the event of a fire. “Our purpose is to make the people aware of their own role in loss-minimisation and, thus, stop the spate in fires. We have so far identified nearly 300 high-risk buildings in the city,” he added.

R.K. Prasannan, principal secretary to the fire services department, is giving final touches to the proposed charges. He said the scheme will be put in place from the next financial year, on the basis of recommendations from licensed agencies.

Prasannan announced that some private parties would be appointed as licensed agencies to visit the “high-risk buildings” on a regular basis and monitor the fire-safety measures. They will also ensure that those running commercial establishments in the old buildings invest in a fire-insurance coverage. “Fire service charges will be imposed only on those found guilty of flouting the safety measures and not adhering to the advice of the licensed agencies,” he added.

According to Prasannan, the charges will be determined on the time the fire-fighters take to put out the blaze (see chart). “At the moment, we are just collecting a fee for deploying fire engines at fair grounds and cultural events. Now, we will bring all commercial establishments under the service charge network,” he said.

Several trade cells have resented the proposed fire service charge. “This is nothing but a ploy to extract money from businessmen,” alleged A.R. Kajaria, adding that they would launch an agitation if attempts were made to impose the fire charge.

ýPump engines: Rs 2,500 for first eight hours. Beyond eight hours, Rs 200 per hour

ýDelivery hose: Rs 20 per 15 metres

ýSpecial equipment (hydraulic platform, aerial ladder, etc): Rs 5,000 for eight hours. Thereafter, Rs 1,000 per hour

ýFor staff: A consolidated fee (Rs 200 per senior officer of the rank of divisional fire officer and above; Rs 100 per officer up to the rank of station officer, Rs 50 per leader and Rs 35 per operator)

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