It’s faith versus fire safety in Ranchi.
As preparations for Durga Puja go full throttle amid nagging weather worries, blaze hazard has taken a back seat once again. The capital is hosting more than 100 big and small pandals this year, but fire officials claim that barely half a dozen of them have sought the mandatory clearance.
A fortnight ago, assistant divisional fire officer R.K. Thakur had rushed a letter to deputy commissioner Vinay Kumar Choubey, requesting him to direct all pandal committees to apply for safety licence. Based on guidelines laid down by the Union ministry of home affairs, copies of the letter were also forwarded to the police and district top brass, including SSP Saket Singh and SDM Amit Kumar.
“We believe pandal work has already started in many parts of the city. While organisers invest big money in preparations, no one seems to be fire-ready,” the letter had read, further stating that the district fire department was ready to offer free training to willing Puja organisers.
Not even 10 per cent committees and clubs have evinced interest so far. The Durga Puja Mahanagar Samiti has listed 111 pandals this year and fire officials say only five have approached them for suggestions.
“Ideally, every organiser should seek preliminary approval from the local fire station before commencement of pandal work. This conditional nod includes a list of dos and don’ts. Once a pandal is complete, fire officials must visit for spot inspection and grant final clearance. The DSP of a particular zone is the final licensing authority,” a fire department official said, requesting anonymity.
“But here, things happen differently. Organisers seek fire certificates at the last moment. So, even if a pandal does not comply with all safety guidelines, we cannot pull it down because religious sentiments are involved. All we can do is offer suggestions to plug fire gaps. Until now, only five Puja committees and clubs have approached us for preliminary approval,” he added.
Krishna Yadav, the president of Durga Puja Mahanagar Samiti, however, claimed that blaze safety was high on their priority list. “I have personally asked organisers to make provisions for firefighting gear such as extinguishers, sand buckets and water. Also, they have been instructed to seek safety approval before inaugurating pandals,” he said.
On why Puja committees were not seeking the mandatory preliminary approval, the president drew a blank. He quickly added: “We will disqualify anyone who violates rules.”
Will you risk your safety to pandal-hop this Puja?