CHENNAI: With fingers pointing now at the lapse in fire safety requirements in the Chennai Silks building, it has been learnt that over 245 commercial buildings in the city — including shopping complexes and even banks, hospitals — do not comply with the requirements, according to data released by the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services (TNFRS).
Most of these buildings situated in commercial areas like T Nagar, Purasawalkam and Parry’s Corner do not have fire-fighting systems, automatic fire detectors and sprinklers which will mitigate damage during fire accidents.
A TNFRS nod is mandatory for all multi-storeyed buildings in Chennai applying for fresh trading licenses. The No Objection Certificate (NOC) issued by TNFRS after initial inspection should be renewed annually, but many don’t.
Violations range from absence of emergency fire exits, down corner systems, staircases and ramps as mandated by Chennai City Municipal Corporation Act, 1919. Most of these were identified during surprise fire-safety audits.
According to TNFRS annual reports from 2010, electric short circuit was the cause for over 75 % fire accidents. “By adding more and more electrical appliances to same old wires, sparks emerge due to overload. The private firms earn in crores, but show hesitation in spending a little more on replacing conventional junction boxes with ‘flame-retardant’ ones to localise the spark, as per norms,” said R Natraj, former Director General of Police (DGP), fire and safety wing.
However, Natraj also said TNFRS can’t be criticised for being a silent spectator to these violations. “Their (TNFRS) role was restricted only to sending notices to violators and reports to licensing authorities seeking action. Invariably, these files remain pending on these tables for years. Since public safety was involved in this, TNFRS should be given powers to suspend trading licenses of serious violators and take immediate action against fire-time offenders. Even a 48-hour closure would cause an economic halt and force them to adhere to fire safety norms strictly,” he added.
The judiciary has also shown leniency in this regard, said retired IAS officer MG Devasahayam. The Madras High Court directed TNFRS to ensure that caution boards were placed at entrances of buildings violating fire safety norms. “This alone was not going to serve the purpose. Fire safety of places were people congregate in huge numbers should be taken up on priority,” Devasahayam told Express.
Going by TNFRS data released in August 2016 after Madras High Court direction, north Chennai has most number of violations. “Many buildings in these old parts of Chennai wouldn’t have been registered as commercial buildings. They obtain residential licences and later convert them into small shops or office spaces,” said another TNFRS official, requesting anonymity.
Responding to this, Devasahayam said, “When successive governments have allowed the big fishes to violate norms easily, why punish these small-time offenders? Once action is taken against the former, the latter will rectify their mistake themselves”.