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The Threat of Building Fires

Context:

The catastrophic fires at a gaming center in Rajkot, Gujarat, and a newborn nursing clinic in Delhi, occurring within 24 hours of each other and resulting in over 30 fatalities, highlight a persistent issue in India: widespread negligence regarding building fire safety by various stakeholders, including builders, owners, and regulatory authorities.

Relevance:

  • GS1- Disaster Management
  • GS3- Urbanization

Mains Question:

In the context of building fires in India, list out the causes that have led to a recent rise in their number. What are the provisions that govern fire safety in India and how successful have they been? (15 Marks, 250 Words).

Current Provisions Regarding Fire Safety in India:

  • Fire service, a critical emergency response service, falls under the 12th schedule of the Indian Constitution, which pertains to municipal functions.
  • Currently, fire prevention and firefighting services are managed by the respective States, Union Territories (UTs), and Urban Local Bodies (ULBs).

National Building Code (NBC) of India, 2016:

  • Published by the Bureau of Indian Standards, the NBC is a “recommendatory document.”
  • State governments are expected to integrate its guidelines into their local building by-laws, thereby making the recommendations mandatory.
  • The NBC includes administrative regulations, general building requirements such as fire safety measures, and provisions for structural design and construction safety.

Model Building Bye Laws, 2003:

  • According to the Model Building Bye Laws 2003, fire clearance is the responsibility of the Chief Fire Officer.
  • The Development Authority must submit building plans to the Chief Fire Officer for fire safety clearance.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA):

  • The NDMA provides guidelines that stipulate fire safety requirements for public buildings, including hospitals.
  • These guidelines cover maintaining a minimum level of open space, exit mechanisms, stairways, and conducting evacuation drills.

Associated Shortcomings:

  • Despite the Bureau of Indian Standards detailing comprehensive fire safety protocols in its National Building Code of India (NBC) 2016, the document is only advisory since fire services fall under state jurisdiction and are enforced at the municipal level.
  • The blatant disregard for India’s fire safety norms is evident from the introductory lines on the ‘About Fire Service – Background’ page of the Director General, Fire Services website under the Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • It states, “The fire services are not well organized in India,” and further notes, “in recent years, the requirements for fire safety cover have increased manifold, whereas the development of fire service has not made much headway.”
  • The National Disaster Management Authority recommended a ₹7,000 crore allocation to the 13th Finance Commission for overhauling India’s fire and emergency services.
  • However, the Commission recognized a need for nearly ₹90,000 crore at the municipal level for a tailored revamp and restructuring of fire and emergency preparedness.
  • A 2019 Home Ministry response to the Rajya Sabha revealed that India had only 3,377 fire stations, whereas a 2012 national report on fire hazards and risk analysis called for more than double that number.
  • The shortage of personnel is even more alarming, with only about 55,000 fire servicemen in 2019, compared to a requirement of about 560,000 seven years earlier.
  • In response, the Centre allocated ₹5,000 crore last July and asked States to contribute another ₹1,400 crore to modernize emergency services.
  • This followed the 15th Finance Commission’s recommendation to allocate 12.5% of all funds towards the National/State Disaster Response Funds.

Conclusion:

With increasing heatwaves and extreme weather events, it is clear that synchronizing the 2016 National Building Code with the Energy Conservation Building Code is necessary for a comprehensive approach to fire safety. Standards for construction materials, electrical wiring, air conditioning, and other cooling materials need an overhaul. More importantly, India’s political leaders, bureaucrats, policymakers, and entrepreneurs must urgently address this critical threat.


June 2024
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