Inquiry report indicts Uphaar management, city authorities
The city authorities's laxity, and the blatant violation of building laws by the Uphaar cinema hall
management were responsible for the fire which claimed 59 lives in
the New Delhi theatre on June 13, an official inquiry has concluded.
Disclosing contents of the Naresh Kumar Committee report, Delhi Chief Minister Sahib
Singh Verma said another high-level
committee headed by the principal secretary, home, would be set up
to fix responsibility for the incident.
The committee would be given 15 days's time to submit its
findings and action would be taken 'immediately' on its
Delhi Deputy Commissioner Naresh Kumar said
in his 86-page report that various official agencies like the Delhi
Vidyut Board, the Delhi police's licensing branch, Delhi fire
service and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi contributed to the mishap through their acts of
omission and commission.
On the face of it, Varma said, the hall's owners, the Ansals, also were at fault. The chief minister, however, admitted that as he had not read the whole report, he could not say how soon action would be taken against them.
Detailing the lapses on the Uphaar management's part, the
report said, in violation of the
Cinematograph Act, extra seats had been installed in the passage
and in front of a door, blocking the exit.
'Major deviations' had been made from the approved building plan,
converting the hall into a 'death trap for innocent people'. A staircase leading to the exit had been let out to a
carpet company. Also 'highly combustible' material like pvc foam,
rexine and insulating material had been stored in the basement. This
lapse had been noticed in 1983 and the management told to rectify
the situation, but nothing had been done.
Also, the parking lot in the basement did not have even the basic
fire fighting equipment like sand buckets. Though the capacity of
the parking lot was 18 cars, some 36 cars were there at
the time of the fire, forcing many to park their vehicles
close to the transformer. When the oil spill from the transformer
caught fire, it spread to the cars, thus worsening the situation.
Exit signs were not battery-operated and once the lights
went out, panic-struck people had to grope in the dark
for exits, many of which were blocked by seats, the report said.
It observed that though the fire started at about 1645 hours, the movie
was not stopped nor any announcement made to evacuate the audience.
Highlighting the Delhi Vidyut Board's shortcomings, the report
said the authority had not bothered to follow the Indian
Electricity Rules, 1956, regarding installation, maintenance and
protection of transformers. The transformer should not have been
installed in the basement. Also, regular maintenance and upkeep
were lacking as there was 'poor workmanship by the
substation maintenance staff.'
As for the licensing authority, it had failed to ensure that the
cinema hall management complied with the provisions of the
Cinematograph Act with regard to the seating arrangements and
fire safety measures.
Further, there were 'irregularities' in issuing 'temporary
permits' to the hall, it added.
The Delhi fire service contributed to the disaster by giving a
no-objection clearance to the cinema hall, disregarding the
non-functional public-address system, the absence of alternative
power source for exit lights and the inaccessibility to an
underground water tank.
The MCD also had not bothered to inspect the theatre and object
to the violations of the building laws.
The Committee has recommended the following measures:
- All buildings of more than 15 metres be inspected
in a time-bound manner for fire safety measures
- A city health service be created to provide medical aid in such
- The Delhi Fire Prevention and Safety Act be amended to provide
public liability insurance
- A short documentary on fire-fighting be screened in cinema halls
- Exit signs be powered by batteries
- Transformers be housed in separate rooms which open outside
- Licensing regulations be reviewed by a high-level
- A committee consisting of the Delhi fire service,
labour department, MCD and Delhi police officials be set up to
review granting annual licences.
60 feared killed in Delhi fire
Friday's fire raises fears that many Delhi movie halls ignore safety norms