70 and Counting: Potential Kamala Mills of Bengaluru
On the afternoon of 23 February 2010, when smoke filled the corridors of Bengaluru’s Carlton Towers, panic was the only reaction.
The occupants of the building, caught unawares by the fire and rising smoke, didn’t know where the emergency exits were or how to evade a blaze like that. The building, which had its emergency under locks and lacked most of the fire-fighting equipment, became a death trap.
On that day, Bengaluru lost nine lives, and more than 100 were left injured.
Until then, Bengaluru had not seen a fire tragedy of such a scale. In the days that followed, city administration and citizens vowed to learn from their mistakes and take fire safety seriously.
Nine years later, the city has forgotten Carlton Towers and whatever they ought to learn from the tragedy.
An audit by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services has shown that more than 70 high-rise buildings, most housing pubs and restaurants, in Bengaluru have been violating fire safety norms.
More Than 70 Violators Found in Four Days
Immediately after Kamala Nagar fire tragedy in Mumbai, Karnataka Fire and Emergency Services conducted inspections across the city. In just two days the department found 44 high rise buildings that are violating fire safety norms. Moreover, this was on inspecting just three localities of Bengaluru – Indiranagar, Koramangala and JP Nagar.
Soumendu Mukherjee, Inspector General, Department Fire and Emergency Services, said that as on Wednesday, after the department expanded the inspections to other areas, the number of unsafe buildings has gone over 70.
According to him, violations such as fire exits being shut down, unauthorised constructions, not leaving enough space for fire engines to move around, etc, were found on inspection.
“Apart from the violations, none of these buildings have obtained an NOC from the department, before construction or while making modifications to the existing building. Apart from giving a detailed list of violations to be rectified, these establishments have been asked to report back to the fire department within 15 days,” he added said.
Electricity Supply of Violators Will be Cut Off
The 70 establishments which have been caught violating rules have been given a deadline of 15 days to comply. IGP Mukherjee said that if builders failed to implement the changes, the department will cut off electricity to their properties.
“A 2011 High Court notification gives us the power to shut down the electricity supply, cancel the occupation certificate of the building and shut it down, in case of violations. We will use these means if the buildings don’t comply with the safety regulations,” the officer added.
Citizens’ Movement Key to Big Push
Since 2011, after the Karnataka High Court gave the fire department powers to inspect and prosecute, there have been several inspections, but none this effective. According to Uday Vijayan, a member of ‘Beyond Carlton’, common people going up in arms against the violations is responsible for waking up the authorities.
“Days before New Year’s Eve, residents were on the streets protesting against the illegal buildings. It is sustained campaign. We hope that this inspection drive would make the city safer,” Vijayan said.
Beyond Carlton is an association formed by survivors of the Carlton Tower fire tragedy. The group has been a prominent advocate of fire safety in the city. It was a PIL filed by them that led to the Karnataka High Court passing the notification that gave the fire department more powers.