House densification is a phenomenon that occurs in both planned and unplanned settlements in cities. Devastating fires are the most common risk in India’s densely packed urban areas.
GS Paper – 1 : Urbanization, GS Paper – 3: Disaster Management
In light of recent fire incidents, discuss the provisions relating to fire safety in India. Suggestions for improving fire safety in India are also welcome. (150 Words)
The survey report and the severity
- According to India Risk Surveys 2018, India ranks third in fire incidents, particularly in the country’s northern and western regions. The use of wood fuel and charcoal for room heating, waste burning around courtyards, and poor city infrastructure for firefighting and accessibility are all common causes of fire disasters in urban areas.
- By generating a large amount of smoke pollution and releasing greenhouse gases, urban fires can have a negative impact on human lives and property, as well as the environment and ecosystem.
- Despite major fires in the past, flagrant violations of building and fire safety standards persist, and fire accidents occur with alarming frequency. It is past time that fire safety was taken seriously and violators were prosecuted.
Current Fire Safety Provisions in India
- The fire service is one of the most important emergency response services in the country, and it is covered by the Indian Constitution’s 12th schedule, which deals with municipal functions.
- Currently, fire prevention and suppression services are organised by the respective states, union territories (UTs), and urban local bodies (ULBs).
- The 2016 National Building Code (NBC) of India: The Bureau of Indian Standards publishes NBC as a “recommendatory document,” and state governments are expected to incorporate it into their local building codes, making the recommendations mandatory.
- It is primarily composed of administrative regulations, general building requirements such as fire safety requirements, structural design and construction (including safety) provisions.
- 2003 Model Building Bye Laws: The Chief Fire Officer is responsible for fire clearance at each point under the Modern Building Bye Laws 2003. For clearance purposes, the concerned Development Authority must provide the building plans to the Chief Fire Officer.
- National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA): The National Disaster Management Authority’s guidelines specify fire safety requirements for public buildings, including hospitals, as well as design guidelines for maintaining a minimum level of open space, exit mechanisms, stairs, and evacuation drills.
Issues Contributing to Urban Fires in India
- Lack of Uniform Fire Safety Legislation: According to the Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India report 2020, 11,037 fire accidents occurred in the country in 2020. Despite this, there is no uniform fire safety legislation in India.
- Natural and Climatic Causes: Fires in urban areas are caused by natural weather phenomena such as lightning and extreme heat with low humidity.
- Absence of Smoke Management and Emergency Lighting: Because high-rise buildings frequently contain large enclosed spaces or voids, even a small fire can quickly become a fire hazard due to a lack of smoke management and a warning mechanism via emergency lighting.
- Lack of Vulnerability Analysis: Due to poor regulation and enforcement of the National Building Code 2016, a lack of vulnerability analysis in buildings leads to urban fires because vulnerability has a direct impact on preparedness, response, and recovery.
- Lack of Proper Electric Insulation: Polyurethane foam (PUF) used for plastic insulation is highly flammable due to its proximity to electrical wiring, which immediately catches fire when heated due to overloading or short circuit.
The Way Forward
- Fire Safety Legislation and Audit: To reduce the vulnerability of urban fires, India requires strong fire safety legislation as well as an effective time-to-time audit mechanism.
- Corporate Safety Responsibility: Building corporations must conduct proper vulnerability assessments prior to construction and keep basements clear of obstructions in order to maintain proper escape channels.
- Fire Hazard Response Plans: It is critical that every Urban Local Body develops a fire hazard plan in collaboration with administration, the fire brigade, and the health department, and conducts regular mock drills in public spaces to promote public awareness and rapid recovery from unforeseen fires.
- Modernization of Fire Safety Equipment: The government should provide funds and assistance to bolster and modernise fire departments with equipment such as smoke detectors, fire hose cabinets, and automatic sprinkler systems.