Accusations first, safety later

Burning issue

It is two years since the blaze atop the Carlton Towers had people jumping to their death.

Deserted : The Carlton Towers is dysfunctional after the tragedy. DH Photo by B H Shivakumar

Nine people lost their lives and more than 60 were injured. But did the Carlton tragedy compel the fire and emergency services department and the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) to join hands to make sure another mishap doesn’t take place in the ever expanding city like Bangalore?

 On July 7, 2011, in response to the Karnataka High Court’s ruling on a PIL, filed by ‘Beyond Carlton’, the State Government issued a notification, directing the fire and emergency services department and the BBMP to inspect all high rises in Bangalore and make sure they are properly equipped with fire safety equipment.

The Karnataka Fire and Emergency Services (KF&ES) Department has the power to issue a non-compliance certificate to a building owner and direct the BBMP for cancellation of the occupancy certificate. Despite this, the authorities say they haven’t been able to inspect all the buildings in the City, owing to shortage of trained staff.

They have only carried out mock fire safety drills in high-rise buildings including M S Building, IT parks, hotels and hospitals. “We have begun to concentrate on high rises that have a large number of people visiting and working in them. This is the beginning and we hope to cover more buildings,” explains A R Infant, director general of police and director general, fire and emergency services.

The department has the powers to write to the BBMP to disconnect the water and power supply of buildings that are non compliant of the National Building Code 2005. When asked if they have been able to spot buildings that have violated rules, the department officials were not able to give an answer or even cite such buildings. But is it possible to believe that every single high-rise building in the City has complied the rules? “We can only recommend and can’t cancel their occupancy certificate, that the BBMP has to do that,” says Infant.

So has the department recommended any cancellation of occupancy certificate? “We have conducted drives after the Carlton tragedy but didn’t find any case of violation. Hence, we have not recommended any cancellation,” says N Shivakumar, additional director general, KF&ES. 

Metrolife checked with the BBMP whether it has been doing its round of inspection of high rises in the City. Commissioner M K Shankarlinge Gowda concedes that it is impossible to spot lacuna in any building after its construction. “Most of the regulations are followed when a structure is built but the additions and violations creep in much later and we don’t get to know of it unless it is reported to us. If we come across any violation, we don’t think twice before cancelling the occupancy certificate,” reasons Shankarlinge Gowda.

 Citing an example of a high-rise building, a hospital in this case on Vittal Mallya Road, that has violated the National Building Code 2005, another senior official of the fire and emergency services department says, “This building hasn’t left the appropriate space around the building or a driveway for the fire engines to move around and the ‘building setback’ (distance between the building and the lot line) are virtually missing. Two more floors have been added and now the building exceeds the stipulated height.” 

It looks like the safety of Bangaloreans is yet being compromised as the officials continue with the blame game.

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