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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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‘(Fire services) lack punitive powers’

Hot seat - Binoy Kumar Behera
director of Odisha fire services

Sailendu Mohanty, an award-winning fire officer, drowned in the Mahanadi last week during a training programme for firemen. He was known to be an expert swimmer. What went wrong?

The postmortem report is awaited. The medical expert from Sweden in his report has said that there was still 10 minutes of oxygen left in his cylinder and, maybe, he was not able to activate a special jacket that could have helped him come up to the surface. But the report will tell whether his death was caused by human error, cardiac arrest or faulty equipment.

lWhy did you allow him to venture into the river when he was already 52 years old?

A debate is on relating to the age factor. I am 55 and have a pacemaker. Yet, on that day, I was the first to dive into the water. His death was an accident, a sad incident.

lAre you adequately equipped to deal with a fire emergency like the one that took place at AMRI Hospital, Calcutta?

We are fairly equipped. The only shortcoming is the Odisha Fire Service does not have punitive powers. In other states such as Maharashtra, the fire officers can seal a particular building if found to be unsafe from the fire point of view. But our powers are recommendatory. Better coordination with various agencies is also necessary.

lSo, is there a lack of coordination among agencies?

Of late, coordination has improved but still there is a long way to go. The development authorities are now involving us in giving no-objection certificates for a building plan.

lWhich is at greatest risk as far as a fire accident is concerned – state secretariat, Assembly or heads of the departments building?

It’s difficult to say. They are all old buildings but fire safety measures have been taken in all three. There was a mishap in the heads of the departments building recently due to short circuit. We can’t prevent that because the wiring is old. But there has to be an immediate attendance mechanism in place.

lWhy haven’t you conducted a fire drill yet at the SCB Medical College and Hospital in Cuttack?

Thorough inspection has been done though. We conduct drills when there is eagerness from the opposite party, which was lacking on SCB’s part.

lDon’t you agree that your department has remained a toothless body since the Odisha Fire Service Act, 1993, is yet to be implemented?

Toothless is a strong word. Our suggestions are always considered. Since the enforcement has been delayed for almost 20 years, some rules need to be modified, as they are no longer relevant. We have suggested certain changes. Hopefully, they will be implemented soon.

lHow far has the inspection of fire safety norms in important buildings been successful?

The inspection has more or less been completed. All hospitals, private nursing homes and clinics in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and other parts of the state have been inspected by expert teams. Our report and suggestions have been sent to them and the health department. While some have responded favourably, others have not bothered to reply. We have informed authorities that narrow streets, congested space and lack of water sources nearby would make firefighting difficult. But we don’t have the authority to make them accept our suggestions.

How many violators are there on your list?

There are just two corporate hospitals in Bhubaneswar that have taken complete precaution against fire. All others are deficient in some way or the other and we have intimated the health department regarding this.

Do you also have shortage of manpower?

We have about 1,000 vacancies against the 3,500-odd sanctioned posts. But we are buying very good equipment and modernising our buildings. A large number of fire stations have been sanctioned but since the land allotted for their construction is far from the township, we are not getting rented houses for the fire personnel within a 2-km radius. We are keeping them in the barracks but are not able to provide them adequate water supply. Our priority now is constructing staff quarters close to the fire stations at a cost of Rs 20 crore.

Do you feel you have been a victim of yellow journalism? You were dragged into the Biranchi Das murder case and removed as commissioner of police.

I leave it for you to judge. I can only tell you that it was a painful experience for me. Let us not dig up the past.

How do you, a tough, bold, pistol-bearing man, relate to your softer streak as musician?

If a policeman is hard and harsh, that is a problem. You can’t go around scaring people with a lathi. You have to be human, soft and sensitive to understand people’s problems. Love for music and literature helps me empathise with them.

RECENT INCIDENTS OF FIRE

BHUBANESWAR

October 31, 2011: At Unit-I daily market due to short circuit. Property worth Rs 50 lakh, two hotels, a plastic shop, a photo binding shop and one selling puja materials destroyed. No casualty because it was a

Monday when market remains closed. Fire brought under control after an hour’s struggle by firefighters

lOctober 8, 2011: At a building of directorate of agriculture and food production (heads of the departments building) due to short circuit. Some files damaged and it exposed how major buildings in the capital lack adequate fire safety mechanism

CUTTACK

April 28, 2012: At DAV Public School, Rajabagicha. Fire originated in electric control room on campus. Timely intervention by a group of parents averted a major mishap

March 14, 2012: At a three-storey footwear showroom due to short circuit. Property worth Rs 20 lakh gutted. Around 50 fire-fighters took almost four hours to douse flames

March 2, 2012: At a furniture showroom on ground floor of a five-storey building due to short circuit. No casualty but close shave for 15 families in the building. Furniture and other property worth over Rs 15 lakh damaged

October 17, 2011: At a spice factory due to short circuit. Property worth lakhs gutted, equipment destroyed

Honestly speaking

Known for his honesty and credibility, IPS officer Binoy Kumar Behera is the chief of the state fire services

Born in Sambalpur district’s Burla town, he is the son of renowned professor Bhubaneswar Behera

He studied in Ispat Public School, Rourkela, till Class VIII and completed matriculation from Stewart School in Bhubaneswar. He did his graduation and post graduation in English literature from Ravenshaw College, Cuttack, and Delhi University, respectively

After a brief stint with the Steel Authority of India Limited, he worked as a probationary officer in the State Bank of India for two years. He cleared the IPS exams in 1982 and was first posted as the superintendent of police of Kalahandi and then of Mayurbhanj, Puri and Cuttack as SP. He has also served as inspector-general of crime branch and deputy inspector-general in Rourkela

He was the managing director of Orissa State Road Transport Corporation when he was appointed as the first police commissioner of the twin cities of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack in 2007. However, he was unceremoniously removed from this post and transferred as inspector-general of police (technical) following allegations by gangster Raja Acharya that Behera was present in the meeting of “conspirators” of Biranchi Das murder case

A wildlife enthusiast, Behera is very passionate about music, photography and sports

What would have been had you not been an IPS officer?

That’s difficult to answer since I have a wide variety of interests. I am immensely fond of wildlife, music, acting, photography and sports. But I think I would have liked to be a musician. Initially, I did have a desire to be a part of public administration service. I liked the army and police uniforms as well. Administrative service was definitely a career option but I was not focussed on one particular field. My father inspired my thoughts and personality. One thing that he taught me was the courage of conviction.

If you have done nothing wrong, you don’t have anything to fear.