If you are caught in an unfortunate pandal fire in Jamshedpur this Durga Puja, pray for divine intervention.
The steel city, which is arguably only second to Calcutta in hosting pandals, is facing an acute firemen crunch that can paralyse its blaze battling mechanism in case of an exigency. The drought of gear and manpower is so severe that the fire services department has already expressed its inability to conduct the mandatory survey of safety norms in pandals and issue NOCs.
As many as 285 big and small pandals will dot the city and its outskirts by Panchami next Friday. Besides, there will be around 10 sprawling fairs near high-budget Pujas in Sonari, Circuit House Area, Tuiladungri (near Golmuri), Sidhgora, Baridih, Burmamines, Bhuiyandih, Telco, Bistupur and Mango. And history of the city has it that carnivals and catastrophes go hand in hand .
To deepen worries, the state fire station in Golmuri has only three vehicles instead of required 10 and a very modest team of 16 trained firemen, three drivers and two havildars. Expressing his helplessness, East Singhbhum district fire officer Mahanand Singh said his sanctioned staff strength was 50 and he could not follow administrative orders for fire survey with less than half that manpower.
“With these many staff at our disposal, it is not possible to visit every pandal and see whether it has adhered to standard fire safety norms. At best, we may cover some big ones with fairs. But then, with only few days remaining for the celebrations, we cannot hurt religious sentiments by asking organisers to pull down pandals if they are flawed,” Singh reasoned.
Rambabu Singh, the secretary of the Jamshedpur Durga Puja Kendriya Samiti, which is an umbrella outfit of organisers, suggested a way out. “The fire services department can write to the state headquarters for more men and vehicles. Jamshedpur hosts the maximum number of pandals in the state and should top the fire priority list,” he contended.
He added that on their part they were trying to adhere to blaze guidelines like not using synthetic fabric in pandals, ensuring legal and insulated wiring, keeping fire extinguishers, sand buckets and water tanks handy, creating emergency exits and putting emergency numbers on display. “But, we are not the regulatory body and can only advise organisers. It is the duty of the fire services department to do the final check.”
Dhalbhum SDO Subodh Kumar too echoed Rambabu Singh. “We have issued instructions for strict compliance of fire safety norms. Now, the department concerned must issue NOCs after proper examination,” he added.
Fire officer Singh claimed that though they had not written to Ranchi for reinforcement, they had conveyed their message verbally to state mandarins several times. “The problem is not confined to Jamshedpur, it is chronic across the state. Senior officials know the problems, but we are managing with constraints. We hope to give you a safe Puja,” he added.
Should pandals without basic fire gear be given NOCs?