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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 24 July 2024

Bengal government orders audit of fire-fighting preparedness of all high-rises

Acropolis blaze was the second in Calcutta within 72 hours after a fire at a non-functional bar-cum-restaurant on Camac Street on June 11

Snehamoy Chakraborty Calcutta Published 16.06.24, 09:36 AM
Smoke comes out of Acropolis during the fire on Friday

Smoke comes out of Acropolis during the fire on Friday Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

The Bengal government on Saturday ordered the audit of fire-fighting preparedness at all shopping malls, markets and high-rises and sought comprehensive reports from officers within a week.

The office of the director general (DG) of fire asked the officers of all fire and emergency services stations in all 23 districts to visit shopping malls, multi-storey markets and high-rises under their respective jurisdiction to check the buildings’ fire-fighting preparedness and submit detailed reports.

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“I have asked the DG (fire) to compile a list of all markets and high-rises in Calcutta and districts with their fire-fighting preparedness status as soon as possible. Once we receive the list, we will identify those not following the fire-safety protocol,” said Sujit Bose, the state fire and emergency services minister.

The move was prompted by Friday’s blaze at the 21-storey Acropolis in Calcutta, which raised questions about fire-safety management at multi-storied markets and shopping malls and the state government’s role in monitoring fire-fighting preparedness.

The Acropolis blaze was the second in Calcutta within 72 hours after a fire at a non-functional bar-cum-restaurant on Camac Street on June 11. The twin incidents prompted Opposition parties like the BJP to question the government’s commitment to minimise fire hazards.

Bose told this newspaper that his department would first ask the owners of the facilities with inadequate measures to rectify their lapses, if any. “We would take stern action against those who continue with the lapses,” he added.

The BJP had already accused his department of lapses in fire audits of all high-rises and market complexes in the city and its outskirts.

“The fire services department must conduct regular fire audits of large malls and markets. Unfortunately, there is no system of fire audits in the state. We demand that the fire minister make a statement about the state of the fire management system,” said BJP Rajya Sabha member Samik Bhattacharya.

“The minister should explain the reason behind the failures in the fire-management system. He should clarify whether a scarcity of funds hindered the state’s firefighting arrangements,” Bhattacharya added.

Minister Bose, however, claimed that his department conducted a fire audit of all those buildings every year and a fresh order had been given to revisit the status.

“We had some backlogs in fire audits during the Covid-19 years. Now we conduct a fire audit every year,” he said.

The BJP has announced its MLAs, in small groups, will start visiting market complexes and shopping malls to identify lapses in fire-fighting preparedness to let people know about the vulnerabilities.

A source in the fire and emergency services department said most of around 160 fire stations were operating with around half of their sanctioned staff as there had been no significant recruitment in the past five years.

A senior fire department officer said they had already started visiting malls, markets and high-rises in Calcutta to ensure compliance with the National Building Code (NBC), which provides specific guidelines for fire-fighting preparedness for different categories of structures.

“In most cases, shopping mall owners use emergency exits and staircases as storage areas, which is completely against the law. Authorities of many premises don’t regularly check fire extinguishers or water sprinklers. Our officials will verify all such issues,” said a fire department officer.

Apart from Calcutta, multi-floored shopping malls and housing complexes have mushroomed in districts, especially Calcutta’s adjoining areas in Howrah, Hooghly, North 24-Parganas and South 24-Parganas.

“The department has also been asked to check the fire-fighting preparedness in those areas.... However, such buildings and high-rises have also come up in remote districts like Birbhum, Purulia and Jhargram. The priority is to focus on establishments located in crowded areas where a fire can cause significant harm,” he added.

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