'In the last six years, there have been 29,140 fire incidents in Mumbai in which 300 people have died and 925 people have been injured.'
'So, at least 10 to 12 fire accidents take place in Mumbai every day.'
The massive fire at a 34-storey Mumbai building on Wednesday, June 13 -- which also houses the home and office of Bollywood star Deepika Padukone -- has once again brought the issue of fire safety in the city to the fore.
RTI activist Shakeel Ahmed Shaikh had filed an application two months ago to know how many people have died in Mumbai due to fire incidents in the last six years. And he received some shocking answers.
Shaikh tells Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf.
What was your RTI plea about fires in Mumbai city?
I had filed an RTI application asking for details as to how many fire incidents took place in Mumbai every year from 2012 to 2017 and how many people died in those incidents.
I got very shocking answers from the fire brigade.
In the last six years, every year, on an average, there were 5,000 incidents of fire.
In the last six years, there have been 29,140 fire incidents in Mumbai in which 300 people have died and 925 people have been injured.
So, at least 10 to 12 fire accidents take place in Mumbai every day. This number excludes smaller incidents where fire was extinguished without calling the fire brigade.
The number of people who have died can be higher because the fire brigade only counts bodies which are found at the spot.
what are the reasons for such a high incidence of fire accidents?
They have not given that information, but one of the reasons is illegal construction and illegal restaurants running in Mumbai. They are not fire safety compliant and do not have safety measures.
According to the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measure Act, every building must conduct a safety audit and report that to fire brigade. That is not happening now in Mumbai.
How do you know that?
There was an RTI filed on this issue too. It simply asked two questions to the fire brigade. How many buildings in Mumbai have conducted a fire safety audit and how many haven't.
They said they cannot give the numbers and if one named specific buildings, then only that information can be given that whether a fire safety audit was done or not.
How many buildings are there in Mumbai?
There are around three lakh (300,000) buildings and, according to law, every building has to do the fire audit. It is the responsibility of the society's (managing) committee members.
Earlier, the occupation certificate was not compulsory in Mumbai, but now it is mandatory.
When they do the audit they check the electrical appliances and wiring of the building.
If there are problems, then the fire audit agency will tell the society to change the wiring.
The fire brigade must counter check all these things, but they do not do their duty.
What is the staff strength of the fire brigade in Mumbai city? Is it capable of conducting this verification?
When you don't pay income tax, then the I-T office sends a mail to your house by courier or e-mail. Isn't it? So I feel the fire brigade must also implement same kind of mechanism.
It is not a very big thing. The fire brigade just needs to develop a software to find out details about buildings that do fire safety audit and buildings which don't.
Sadly, in our country, government departments do come into existence, but on the ground, things do not get implemented.
People also need to follow rules and regulations for their own safety.
What are the shortcomings of the fire brigade in Mumbai?
Fire mostly breaks out at commercial premises, especially restaurants.
There are regulations on the use of gas cylinders in restaurants, the electrical wires must be ISI approved and there must be two exit doors.
Cooking cannot be done in the visitor's area, but you must have seen in Mumbai that there are pav bhaji or fast food outlets outside hotels and restaurants.
If there is a fire in those places, how will the customers escape?
Therefore, in every restaurant, there must be an emergency exit door, but which is never there.
So how do these establishments get a licence?
They run without a licence.
90 per cent of restaurants do not have no objection certificates from the fire department.
Mumbai is sitting on a firebomb.
We have to be careful before entering restaurants, and ensure whether they are fire compliant or not.
What about fire brigade ladders? Do our firemen have ladders high enough to reach 50 or 60 floors?
No, we do not have (external link) them.
In other countries, I have seen on videos, robots go and extinguish fire, while firemen operate the robots by remote control.
But it is not possible to get such robots in Mumbai because the roads are choked and fire brigade vehicles cannot reach many spots, so how can these robot fire extinguishers reach?
How do these tall buildings get permission to be constructed?
They have to have proper fire safety equipment in the building. And these buildings must do a fire safety audit.
The trouble here is even if a building's society does the audit, the fire department must also do its own cross-checking.
There are around 20 fire stations if I am not mistaken and there are 100 staffers per station.
We do not jump traffic signals when a traffic cop is standing, but we may do it otherwise.
In the same way, the fire brigade must keep a check on all the buildings and ensure that they are safe from fire hazards.
Let me add one more thing. After the 2004 Kumbakonam school fire in which around 100 children died, the Supreme Court issued some guidelines.
I filed an RTI about fire safety compliance in schools and colleges. To my surprise, I was told by the fire brigade that I must be specific as to which school I am talking about.
How can I specify that? They must answer.
The fire brigade in Mumbai has no idea which schools have proper emergency exit doors.
If there is a fire at one door, then there has to be an emergency exit.