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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 recommendations.

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 emergencies
  • 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 committee
  • 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

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