Vighnaharta (demolisher of obstacles) Lord Ganesh can protect Jamshedpur from a towering inferno. Or so believe puja organisers.
Of the 100 pandals that have mushroomed in and around the steel city for Ganesh Chaturthi on Monday, only 10 have the mandatory fire clearance.
The worst part is that the East Singhbhum administration prefers to maintain stoic silence against the blatant violation that risks public safety, citing religious sentiments.
According to a survey carried out by the central peace committee, which is entrusted with the task of maintaining harmony during festivities in the city, all the 100 pandals for Ganesh Puja have come up in densely populated residential areas and most have ignored the fire safety protocol.
While big money has been spent on decoration and illumination, many of these pandals have used synthetic fabric instead of the tad expensive fireproof tent material or just the much safer cotton. To add to concerns, at least 10 out of the 100 pandals host fairs, which means more fuel for fire, besides heavy footfall.
District fire officer Raj Kishore Singh conceded that only 10 Ganesh Puja organisers had sought fire clearance.
“We know there are around 100 pandals, but only 10 have approached us for safety nod. We issue clearance after organisers show us the receipt of fire extinguishers (taken on rent). It is not possible for us to physically inspect each and every pandal because of manpower crunch,” Singh said, indicating that organisers could forge receipts to get a no-objection certificate.
Fire guidelines say that a pandal should not use synthetic fabric, must ensure legal and insulated wiring, keep sand buckets and water tanks handy, create emergency exits and display emergency numbers among other things.
“But, in the city, Ganesh Puja pandals are not only made of inflammable fabric, they mushroom in congested lanes, which can hinder rescue operations in case of an accident. Also, most organisers flout the height cap of 18ft for pandals,” the fire officer said.
He, however, added that his department was powerless. “We need orders from higher authorities to act against rogue organisers.”
According to rule, organisers of Ganesh Puja or Durga Puja or for that matter any public function need to approach the subdivisional magistrate (SDM) for permission. The SDM must ask them to furnish no-objection certificates from the fire department and local police station before giving his sanction.
Senior district officials played safe and refused to spell out any steps against violation of fire safety norms.
Dhalbhum SDM Prem Ranjan claimed that he had granted permission to only those pandals that had the twin clearances. “But, we cannot act against errant organisers just like that. So, we will visit pandals to generate awareness in the wake of Vishwakarma and Durga pujas,” he said
Police echoed the administration. SSP Richard Lakra said he had asked local thanas to maintain vigil and “persuade” puja organisers to follow fire safety guidelines.
“However, we cannot ask people to stop holding religious function all of a sudden (even if they violate the law),” the SSP added.
Should rogue organisers be allowed to raise pandals?