Delhi fire tragedy: No one takes responsibility for death of 17 innocent people
The tragic death of 17 persons in Hotel Arpit in central Delhi’s Karol Bagh on early Tuesday, February 12, brought back memories of the Uphaar fire accident, which occurred in June 13, 1997
The tragic death of 17 persons in Hotel Arpit in central Delhi's Karol Bagh on early Tuesday, February 12, brought back memories of the Uphaar fire accident, which occurred in June 13, 1997. In those flames, lives of 59 people were taken and over 103 were severely burnt. The question remains, have we not learnt from our mistakes?
It would seem that we refuse to learn from our mistakes. The Chief Fire Officer of New Delhi GC Mishra was clueless about the rising number of deaths when National Herald had met him. In fact, he didn’t even know that 17 people had died.
“The hotel authorities informed us late because fires that break out due to a short-circuit take hours to become a major fire. They should have informed us earlier. My department was able to rescue 35 people and we recovered nine bodies,” said Mishra.
Blaming the hotel for the tragedy, Mishra pointed out that the hotel neglected several rules, did not take precautions. “We cannot go instruct a building which was built in 1970 to follow rules made in 2007. We can only go check if a building is safe and some of the changes are structural changes. They have to be incorporated when a building is made. This is a building that was old. They did not even have fire alarms,” highlighted Mishra, while going on to underscore that his team did the best they could. He even suggested that the fire was brought under control within two hours. The top fire officer was also quick to blame the hotel staff for their negligence.
According to reports and eye witnesses accounts, the fire took more than three hours to be controlled. Several hotel members stated that the power went out suddenly and plunged their rooms into darkness. Before several occupants could understand what had happened, plumes of thick smoke swept into their rooms.
Agreeing to systemic problems, Mishra said the law enforcement agencies had first enacted the fire safety law in 1983 and there have been several amendments and new provisions added to that law, latest being in 2016. These amendments allowed building owners to increase the height and breadth of several establishments by more than 15meters. This meant that there was no scope for fire tenders to reach the location. “This was a problem with this hotel as well as it was constructed before 1983,” said Mishra. However, several reports have stated that this hotel was built only in 1993.
The Municipal Corporation of Delhi -North is the body that is responsible for giving the no-objection certificate to the hotel, according to the rules in Delhi. Indicating rules, Mishra said the MCD had given the NOC, “we only go to check if the fire safety norms are followed”.
Blaming both the Delhi government and MCD for the mishap, North Delhi MCD councillor Mukesh Goel said, “This is the fault of both the Delhi government and the MCD, which had given the license to run this establishment. In fact, fire department should have checked if they hotel had the safety equipment. At least, some lives could have been saved, if the fire department reached on time. The kitchen of the hotel was on the fifth floor, the BJP-led North MCD should have checked that and if it had followed fire safety norms. MCD should not give permissions to such hotels, which on their certificates function as guest houses.”
The North MCD Commissioner Varsha Joshi said, “The fault lies with the fire department. It is the department which checks fire safety and we depend on them. We are waiting for the enquiry report from the fire department, until then I can’t say anything else on the issue.”
“In Delhi, several illegal buildings are built and expanded. Congested gullies make it difficult for fire trucks to enter the premises. When the department files complaints against such illegal constructions, it is, in turn, asked to look for alternatives,” said Mishra.
Mishra lamented that they even hold a fire vigilant week every year but hardly anyone turns up for it as no one seems to understand the value of human lives. This year the event will be held from April 14 to 20.
The speed with which organisations seemed to shift blame shows that no one seemed to be responsible for the deaths of these 17 innocent people.