First, the proposal to slap a fire-fighting fee on business establishments for battling the blaze. And now, a push for his firemen to have policing powers.
Breathing fire against those violating safety norms, fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee said at Writers’ Buildings on Thursday that he would seek approval from the Cabinet to equip his officials with the authority to carry out on-the-spot arrests.
Chatterjee also announced his intention to effect a sharp hike in fees for fresh applications and renewal of fire licences. The minister said a Bill to amend the Fire Prevention Act, 1950, would be introduced in the winter session of the Assembly, where these provisions would be listed.
“We want the power to arrest those who violate fire-safety norms. After a major fire, we generally find that the police don’t follow up the case and even if people are arrested on charges of stocking inflammable goods, they are released on bail and not suitably punished. We want to carry out arrests and jointly frame the chargesheet with the police so that the criminals are served exemplary punishment,” explained Chatterjee.
He, however, admitted that his department was hamstrung by a shortage of staff that would make it tough for his force to actually take on the dual role of policing. Citing the cash crunch confronting the department to justify the proposed fee hike, Chatterjee added: “We will have to increase the fire-licence fees. It is not possible for us to accept the rates that were fixed by the authorities in 1950. To carry on with 52-year-old rates is illogical. So, we have decided to go in for a substantial rate hike. Say, if someone is paying Rs 15 per annum for a godown, he will now have to pay at least Rs 300.”
The minister said all these points would be put down in the proposed amendment. “We are seeking that these provisions be included in the Fire Prevention Act, 1950. The Bill will be debated in the Assembly and we hope it will be passed in toto,” Chatterjee added.
Expressing concern over “several godowns stocking inflammable goods in crowded localities of the city and its adjoining areas”, Chatterjee said he would like to shift them out of the residential areas to reduce fire hazards.
For this, too, the Fire Prevention Act needs to be amended, said department officials. “It is time that the government launches a crackdown on the hundreds of godowns stocking kerosene, paints and chemicals in residential areas, in a manner that is both illegal and dangerous. A disaster is just waiting to happen,” warned an official.