The Parliament and the Supreme Court buildings are facing serious fire safety issues with the apex court premises not getting safety certificate from the fire authorities for last 10 years.
The issue was highlighted by the Central Information Commission which pulled up the Delhi Fire Service for not releasing information regarding the fire safety of the Parliament and the Supreme Court under Right to Information Act claiming it to be sensitive in nature.
The commission observed that this is a grave matter of life of hundreds of Constitutional office holders, and the information should have been provided within 48 hours. Taking serious view of the fact that last fire safety inspection of the Supreme Court was done in 2004 while for the Parliament it was done in 2013, Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu said the fire department should not have waited for 10 years for taking action.
He pointed out that the fire service department had pointed out shortfalls in fire safety of these buildings but did not take action to fill the gaps despite being empowered under the law to do so.
"The commission feels that the respondent authority should have taken sufficient initiative to enforce all safety guidelines in the Parliament and the Supreme Court buildings by apprising the authorities in Legislature and Judiciary about the need of immediate action, instead of waiting nearly for a decade, perhaps with the hesitation not to cause embarrassment to higher authorities," he said.
In an exhaustive order of 10-pages, Acharyulu directed the chief of the Delhi Fire Service to take a ‘serious note’ of fire-safety ‘lapses’ in the buildings housing Supreme Courtm and Parliament and directed to appraise the authorities in Legislature and Judiciary about necessity and importance of taking the measures recommended by them.
"The Commission observed that this is a grave matter of life of hundreds of Constitutional office holders, hence the information sought is matter relating to life which should have been answered within 48 hours," he said.
On the plea of one Rohit Sabharwal, the commissioner said the information about the fire safety of the buildings of Parliament of India and the Supreme Court of India cannot be prohibited from disclosure as that would not fall under any of the restrictions provided by the RTI Act, 2005.
"Both of these buildings are very significant and huge public interest lies in securing these magnificent structures from fire related dangers. Being high seats of legislature and
judiciary, it is the duty of the respondent authority to enforce fire safety standards," Acharyulu said. He pointed out information seeking questions such as 'whether fire safety certificate was issued or not', 'what was the advice of the respondent authority regarding fire safety' are 'safety' related questions and not security threatening.
"In fact, if these aspects are ignored, as was done for several years, that would raise security concerns...Safety against fire is more important for these two buildings than that of any other building in this country," he said.
Acharyulu said avoiding sensitive information, if any, the respondent authority shall furnish the safety related information in the interest of security of the Parliament and Supreme Court of India and in general public interest.
The commission also directed the fire services department to inform the appellant and the Commission why they have not performed their duties as prescribed under The Delhi Fire Services Act, 2007.
"The commission also recommends Respondent Authority, the CPIO of Supreme Court of India and Parliament of India to inform the appellant and the Commission as to what measures they have initiated to comply with the safety standards/safety recommendations against fire, within one month from the date of receipt of this order," he said.
He also asked the CPIOs of Supreme Court and the Parliament to inform the Commission if they have a fire safety officer appointed in their respective buildings or not, if not, why not and they would appoint within 21 days from the date of receipt of the order.