Over a year after the disastrous fire at Chennai Silks in Thyagaraya Nagar brought focus to the complete lack of fire safety in the city's prime commercial area, Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) has finally decided to act. The civic authority which has allowed T Nagar to mushroom into a dangerous tinderbox is planning a comprehensive fire safety management plan.
According to a tender notice issued by the CMDA, they are looking for a consultant to prepare a detailed project report on 'a Comprehensive Fire Safety Management Plan for Theyagaraya Nagar in Chennai Metropolitan Area (CMA)'. The objective of the report is to evolve a comprehensive fire safety management plan for the area by involving inter-departmental coordination and community participation. It stressed the need to focus on T Nagar to ready it for any future emergencies.
"In addition to individual buildings' fire safety preparedness, there is a need to take additional precautions, especially in T Nagar area, as these areas are characterised by inaccessibility due to narrow roads, violations in set-backs, FSI and encroachments which affect the fire management and emergency response," reads the proposal. "Therefore, there is an urgent need for developing a comprehensive fire-preparedness plan and strategy for rapid emergency for an area like T Nagar," it reads.
It also talks of a community-oriented fire safety plan involving building owners, tenants and local NGOs in partnership with government departments.
"Formulation of strategies to prevent disasters due to fire, and to also increase the preparedness of the community, through progressive community participation, so as to ensure protection of life, property, and the environment from the disastrous impacts of fire breakouts is truly a need of the hour," the CMDA emphasises.
The eight objectives of the exercise include drawing up of a Fire Hazard, Risk Assessment and vulnerabity analysis map, reccomendation of of a community-oriented fire safety plan, development of a framework for an intelligent fire detection and response system, examining how provisions of the Tamil Nadu Fire Services Act can be implemented, development of methodology to involve district forces, suggesting a fire safety module to be replicated, recommendation of Fire Safety Training Organisations and working out the cost-benefit analysis and sources of funding for the Fire safety module.
Residents of T Nagar however have termed the proposal a complete 'eyewash'.
"How can this even be done?" asks T Nagar Residents’ Welfare Association member B Kannan. "Most of these buildings don't have even setback areas. One is textile, one is jewellery and there are eateries. You can't have a blanket plan. In building with textiles, sprinklers will have to be close to the goods. In buildings with jewellery, they need strong jet sprays to tackle wood catching fire. But to even talk about fire safety management plan, these shops have to stop violating the existing norms," he adds.
In 2007, a Madras High Court-appointed monitoring committee found 64 commercial establishments in the area to be in violation of development norms. Even the Chennai Silks building which was gutted is going to be built in the same area again.
"The problem is that the government is trying to help violators instead of bringing them to justice," says Kannan.