There's still a long way to go in making our buildings fire-safe

Bengaluru Carlton fire Six years on the tragedy is a classic case of lessons not learned
news Safety Wednesday, February 24, 2016 - 13:22

Six years have passed the Carlton Towers fire, but a large number of Bengaluru’s high rises are still possible deathtraps. Fire accidents claim the highest number of lives after road accidents.

On February 23, 2010 nine people lost their lives to a fatal fire that engulfed the eight-storied Carlton Towers building in Kodihalli. Bellowing flames which emerged from a lift service cable, later spread to higher floors and injured about 70 people.  

Fire fatalities make for the second largest number of deaths in India after road accidents. The number of people who lost their lives to accidental fires in India in 2014 stands at a staggering 22,177 according to the National Crime Records Bureau data.

Fire safety authorities however, are optimistic: their crackdowns have resulted in a slow and steady process of adhering to the rules, although much work still remains to be done.

Director for Inspections at the Karnataka State Fire and Emergency Services Department NR Markandeya says that in 2011, in the wake of the Carlton Towers tragedy, the state government had issued a notification ordering a survey to categorise buildings and assess the level of compliance.

Conducted in 2014-15, the survey examined 18, 442 buildings categorized residential complexes and high rises into three categories based on the level of compliance:

 
Category Level of Compliance
Category ABuilding having both No Objection Certificate (NOC) and clearance certificate (CC) (prescribed by National Building Code)
Category BHaving only NOC but not CC
Category CHaving neither 

 

Markandeya says that the department has identified over 300 Category C high rises, and most of them in Bengaluru. These buildings were issued notices and given 90 days to implement the prescribed measures.

“Some of the buildings have implemented it. However, for others who didn’t comply, we have adopted stringent penalties like power and water supply cuts,” Markandeya said.

While cutting off power supply got many violators to comply fast enough, he said that the department conducts inspections throughout the year. He said after the survey, officials have inspected over 1, 697 buildings in Bengaluru alone.  

Civil society vigilance

The Carlton Towers tragedy spurred Uday Vijayan, who lost his son in the fire, to put in place systemic safety measures. He founded Beyond Carlton, a community of the victims of the Carlton fire which has grown into an organization which spreads awareness about fire safety.

“Through advocacy, we also ensure that the fire safety officials concerned are held accountable. We constantly pressurize them to make frequent fire safety checks and inspections,” Uday says.

However, Uday is still unhappy with fire safety measures that are in place in many multi-storey buildings in Bengaluru. “If I have rate these preventive measures on a rate of 1 to 10, it has probably improved from one to two-and-a-half since the Carlton incident,” Uday says.

Beyond Carlton had filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Karnataka High Court advocating for stringent fire safety measures to be implemented in high rise buildings across the state capital. It was this PIL that resulted in a government notification issued by the fire safety department specifying preventive measures for high-rises.

“The Carlton towers fire was a highly avoidable accident which was caused due to sheer negligence. We don’t want any family to go through what we did,” says Uday.

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