November 28, 2012, Kolkata

It is unfortunate that even after the Stephen Court fire accident and the AMRI mishap which claimed 43 and 90 lives respectively, improvement of fire safety scenario in the city did not find a place in the priority ‘TO DO’ list! It seems it will take many more fire accidents and loss of life before the state government authorities take any effective remedial measure on fire safety . Some apparent action that was visible for some time has again become dormant and needs waking up through recurrence of accidents like the one that happened in SSKM last Saturday.

Fire accident at the SSKM hospital, last Saturday, is the newest addition to the list of fire accidents that took place in the city since the Stephen court disaster on 23rd march, 2012. A five member committee on fire and safety audit was appointed after the AMRI massacre. The committee conducted inspections in a number of private and government hospitals, served notices to at least four private hospitals for non-compliance to fire safety norms in their premises. To name a few hospitals that had not conformed to the fire safety norms were – B.M. Birla Heart Research Centre, Calcutta Medical Research Institute, Fortis Hospital, Ruby General Hospital, Kothari Medical Research Centre etc. Strangely enough the committee seems to have become dormant and has not been heard about recently. As expected, information on action taken by these hospitals after getting notices from the civic authorities was not available in the public domain.

An inspection report was submitted to the chief licensing officer under the Kolkata Municipal Corporation by the Deputy Director, Fire and Emergency services, pointing out some of the buildings and commercial establishments which were found to be endangered and fire prone. The report was submitted on 20th May, 2010 and Karnani Mansion was one among others in the list. During 2011, another inspection was done in Karnani Mansion which was again found to flout all fire safety norms. Ultimately fire broke out at the place on June 16, 2012 and 10 fire tenders had to be involved to bring the fire under control.This points to the other side of the story. In spite of the efforts put in by civic authorities to ensure fire safety, in many cases the same is not complied due to utter negligence on the part of the commercial establishments which prefer to run their business at the cost of public safety.

Coming back to the SSKM mishap, it raises serious questions and concerns regarding whether and to what extent appropriate fire safety norms are being followed by authorities at various state run hospitals.

Need of the hour is to include/ have mandatory fire safety audit in these institutions. Such audits should be conducted at regular intervals and report for such audits should be made available in the public domain. This will help take stock of the fire safety arrangements and infrastructure available at these institutions and accordingly take appropriate measures to conform to the fire safety norms, ultimately saving precious human lives. It is probably needless to repeat the proverb “A stitch in time saves nine”, because the authorities seem in no mood to listen

For further information please contact:

Keya Ghosh, Director, +91 9831219339;
Prithviraj Nath, Consultant, +91 9830481370;
Arnab Ganguly, Project Officer, +91 9874410391;
CUTS Calcutta Resource Centre
3, Suren Tegore Road, II floor, Kolkata- 700019
Ph. +91 33-24604985/87