Analysis: Delhi fire

Reading time: 6-8 minutes.

A few months after the Karol Bagh Hotel fire massacre, another tragedy has been struck in Anaj Mandi, Delhi. Almost 43 lives have been reported to be dead and several injured in the said incident. It took place in the early hours of December 8, 2019, where a massive fire broke out on the second floor of a four-storey building located in an area designated as residential.

An unauthorised manufacturing unit was being operated inside the building which was responsible for the employment of numerous workers. The building covered an area of approximately 500 m2 and had just a single door which made the rescue of the trapped personnel extremely difficult.

The window grills and meshes of metal had to be cut off to enter the property. Only a single fire tender was sent at a time because of the narrow congested lanes. Despite having two staircases, only one was functional as the other one was blocked by stocks and supplies.

The structure was not in possession of a fire clearance and lacked proper ventilation. The property was filled with a lot of inflammable items such as plastic sheets, cardboards, rexin, etc. The major reason for the fatalities was due to asphyxiation as the workers were sleeping around the machines when the fire broke out.

Affixing responsibility:

As a preliminary action, the proprietor of the said property has been taken into custody along with the manager to ascertain the problem. The owners and the management do play a vital role in the negligent behaviour regarding the incident, but the administrative authorities are also to be looked upon as the building had no fire clearance and still it was functional.

This event coincidentally happened before the Assembly Polls, where the opposition can now raise a huge question on the administrative wing of the AAP Government as it is responsible for the labour and civic services in Delhi.

The weak enforcement of regulations and casual attitude towards the illegalities has raised the occurrences of these tragic incidents. The government officials are also to some extent responsible for aiding and abetting in these incidents as crucial safety rules are being ignored and licences are still granted to these establishments to conduct unauthorised activities.  

Legal principles involved:

The property comes under the purview of Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act, 2006 which lays down the provisions for protection of illegal/unauthorised construction from being sealed. Various other acts are also to be considered for the same, such as The Factories Act, 1948, which deals with problems of occupational safety and health in factories.

Proper internal inquiries among the administrative departments should be commenced for overlooking various substantial violations across the civic bodies. The laws and provisions are properly made for keeping an elaborate check on the illegal and unauthorised activities, but the lack of effective mechanism for the same has become one of the main reasons of these illegal activities to continue in plain sight.

The main effect that the lack of initiatives for systematic mechanisms incurs is of the absence of any viable accountability. The government entities must be held accountable for such misconduct along with the wrongdoers. The fast-track courts are the best alternatives to get justice to the victims in these scenarios.

Public reaction:

The general masses have shown great empathy towards the victims of this tragic incident. Furthermore, great concern regarding the conduct and functioning of the administrative wing of the government has surfaced in the minds of many.

Questions in respect of operation of the appropriate authorities to keep a check on the illegal activities and to maintain a common standard for the potency of the business and establishments have been raised in social media as well as in newspapers and magazines.

People on a large scale have raised their voice for the introduction of a proper mechanism to eradicate the erroneous practitioners and to prohibit the implementation of illegal spheres of trade and commerce.

There are also very conflicting views amongst the audience as to who should be blamed for the same as on one hand the establishment is unauthorised and doesn’t abide by the provisions. On the other hand, it is providing livelihood to many workers and is bread and butter to many.

How can we save ourselves in a similar circumstance?

The feeling of fear rushes into one’s whole body and soul when he/she is trapped in a dangerous situation. The most important thing that strikes the mind is to eradicate that fear by saving one’s own life.

It’s not easy to tackle a situation such like this, but one must try to make the most out of his/her efforts to be safe and sound. There are some important things that one should do when he/she is stuck in a building which has caught fire:

  • One should never ignore a fire alarm. The first reaction should always be to take your keys, forewarn the persons around you, and go.
  • One should act promptly but try to maintain his cool.
  • One should stay low in cases of smoke and fumes.
  • Don’t search for valuables; just make the run for the exit.
  • Don’t use the fire extinguisher unless you know how to.
  • Wake anyone who’s asleep so as to make them totally aware of the situation.
  • Feel the doorknob, with the back of your hand, if its warm then there may be fire on the other side of that door.
  • If the smoke is coming in, the door should be closed down tightly so as to keep the smoke from spreading around.
  • One should never use lifts or elevators in these situations as they are not normally fitted with a fire detection system.
  • One should slam doors as they leave so as to confine the fire or smoke as much as possible.
  • If the fire alarm is in the vicinity, do pull it.
  • One should move towards an open area or if a building has a designated assembly area which is safe, do head there.

Conclusion:

Public safety is a serious issue and it must not be compromised at any cost. It is the duty of the proper authorities and of the government to chart a course with a novel nature which should make the procedure of inspection or examination much easier and efficient.

In the race of development especially in the urban areas, the wrongdoers are indulging in shortcut methods to earn money more quickly and also to escape from the clutches of proper regulations. This has not only encouraged more and more people to act the same, but they have no fear of punishment for misconduct.

With the strong enforcement of regulations along with easier and efficient procedure for procurement of different licences for a commercial establishment, the general notion among the people will definitely change and will bring about welfare in the commercial society as well as the administrative body. The new occupational safety code must be amended in such a way so as to adapt to the needs of both the employer and the employee.

Author: Jatin Bhudhiraja from Amity Law School, Noida.

Editor: Farsana Sadiq from Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia.

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