Revenue in focus, safety off focus for Calcutta Municipal Corporation
Over 48,000 businesses in Calcutta are running without a fire safety clearance or a trade licence, sources at the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) said.
The civic body’s decision — triggered by the 100-hour blaze at Nandaram Market in January 2008 — to issue a trade licence only after the applicant produced a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the fire department was laudable but failed to achieve the desired result, officials said.
The CMC reversed the decision days after yet another fire broke out at the multi-storey trading hub in Burrabazar.
“The earlier decision was aimed at ensuring that all businesses had the required fire-safety measures. But the objective could not be achieved because the fire department did not force the businesses to comply with the fire-safety rules. Nor did it force the errant businesses to close down,” said a CMC official.
“As a result, a large number of business establishments did not bother to get either a trade licence or an NOC from the fire department. The lack of trade licence resulted in a loss of crores of rupees in revenue for us.”
The CMC issues and renews a trade licence against a fee. The licence has to be renewed every year.
The fire department, too, was missing out on revenue in the form of fee for issuing a no-objection certificate.
Last Thursday, mayor Firhad Hakim had announced that the CMC would no longer insist on an NOC from the fire department before issuing a trade licence.
“We felt we should at least earn revenue. Had the fire department conducted inspections and forced some of the businesses to shut down, the desired effect could have been achieved. But it didn’t happen,” said a CMC official.
A fire department official said the department had started conducting fire audits at business establishments five months ago.
“Earlier, the audit used to happen only in places where a fire broke out. Now, we have decided to conduct the audit at all businesses,” the official said.
He said officers conducted random visits to check whether fire-safety measures had been put in place. “It is a huge task. We are recruiting people for it,” the official said.
Another officer of the fire department said the decision to link the trade licence with an NOC from the fire department was taken after the 2008 fire at Nandaram exposed the disturbing fact that many businesses lacked the fire department’s no-objection certificate.
Sources in the civic body said the Calcutta Municipal Corporation Act had been amended to delink the two.
“The file has been sent to Raj Bhavan. It will come into effect once the governor signs it,” a CMC official said.
Certain kinds of businesses have to obtain an NOC from the fire department. Some of these are educational institutions, nursing homes and hospitals, cinemas, shopping malls, multiplexes, guest houses, hotels, restaurants, sweet production units, units that manufacture or store leather and plastic goods, factories, automobile repair workshops, fuel pumps and LPG godowns.
“There are 20 categories of businesses that need our NOC,” a fire department official said.
CMC sources said there were about 3.75 businesses registered with the civic body. Of them about 50,000 belong to the categories that need an NOC from the fire department to function. Only 1,500 of the 50,000 have renewed their trade licence this fiscal.