Bengaluru’s Bapujinagar fire a wake-up call

Bengaluru’s Bapujinagar fire a wake-up call

Bengaluru: Fire fighters try to douse a fire which broke out in a chemical factory, in Bengaluru, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. (PTI Photo/Shailendra Bhojak) (PTI10-11-2020_000089A)

The massive fire that broke out a few days ago at a factory in Bengaluru’s thickly populated Bapujinagar where chemicals required for the manufacture of sanitisers were stocked once again draws attention to the callousness toward the storage, transport and disposal of hazardous material. That 20 units of fire tenders were required to douse the flames speaks of its intensity. Fortunately, the school nearby was closed due to Covid-19 and the damage was limited to a few neighbouring houses and vehicles. Had the incident occurred at night, the loss of life and property would have been colossal. Considering that over half-a-dozen serious fire accidents were reported from sanitiser factories across the country in the past few months, local authorities in Bengaluru should have acted proactively and shut down the Bapujinagar unit on their own. Instead, they even ignored repeated complaints over the years from residents.

The factory was established over 40 years ago, when several such industrial units dotted Mysuru Road, off which Bapujinagar is situated. Over the years, the burgeoning city not only encroached into industrial areas which were on the outskirts but also into the green belt that once surrounded Bengaluru. While this unplanned growth, which continued over the decades, was ignored and often facilitated by the civic authorities and local politicians, many old industrial units have now come to be located within such residential areas. To make matters worse, authorities like Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), Karnataka Fire and Emergency Services, Karnataka State Pollution Control Board and the Department of Factories either blindly renew the licences year after year or look the other way while many of these units function illegally. The government should initiate stringent action against negligent officers in this case and make an example out of them.

The government should immediately identify hazardous units which are still operating in densely populated parts of Bengaluru and offer them incentives to relocate to designated areas on the city’s outskirts. Police Commissioner Kamal Pant has said that beat constables will be tasked with identifying such units, but the police are neither equipped to undertake such a task nor is it their responsibility. An appropriate agency must be given the task. With the demarcating line between residential, commercial and industrial areas fast disappearing, Bengaluru is becoming hazardous for its residents. What the city needs today are elected leaders and bureaucrats with foresight and vision. But this seems like a far cry, with self-aggrandisement taking precedence over the larger interests of the city. The warning bells have rung loud and clear, we can ignore them at our own peril.