NEW DELHI: The memory of the blazing fire that engulfed a school at Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu just a decade ago claiming the lives of 83 school children is still not hazy, but Delhi’s schools seem to be oblivious of the impending catastrophe that is waiting to strike them in the absence of fire safety measures.
As high as 70 per cent of the schools in the national capital continue to run without valid fire safety certificates, thus putting the lives of most of the city’s 35 lakh schoolchildren in danger.
The shocking figure is yet to make the authorities sit up and take notice. No authorities are willing to act against the educational entities -- government or private -- that dot the landscape of the city. Of the 6,033 recognised schools, both government and private-owned, only 2,069 have managed to get the No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Delhi Fire Services (DFS). Nearly 4,000 schools are at high fire risk since they do not have fire safety measures, despite repeated campaigns and requests from the Fire Department.
“These schools flouting all fire safety measures have put their’s and the children’s lives at a major risk. None of these schools are equipped to deal with fire situations,” A K Sharma, director of DFS, told Express.
These schools are deprived even of basic safety equipments in the event of an outburst of fire, Sharma said. “It is really sad to find that most of these schools don’t even bother to apply for fire safety certificates so that we can at least conduct an inspection,” he added.
Moreover, those schools with the certificates never get them renewed. “They do not respond to reminders. Renewal is mandatory and should be done every five years, according to the new legislation which came into existence in 2011,” Sharma added.
With 56 fire stations, 150 fire engines and 1,300 fire fighters, the Delhi Fire Services has been running awareness campaigns extensively for the last two years, but has failed to convince the schools to apply for fire safety certificates.
The schools, running in 1,600 unauthorised colonies, near 1,000 slum areas and congested areas like Chandni Chowk and Chowri Bazar, are more prone to tragedy. Schools located in congested areas are at a greater risk, given the hurdles to reach the spot. All the owners or occupants of educational buildings have been directed to obtain fire safety certificates from the DFS. But the department has received only 3,660 applications from schools for the issuance of NOC and of these, only 2,069 schools had complied with the fire prevention and safety measures.
Several notices have been sent to government and private schools, but no one seems to have taken the matter seriously. “We have been sending notices to schools, informing the authorities but hardly anything has changed in the last few years,” said Ritu Mehra, member of the Child Welfare Committee.
Nearly 35 lakh children go to schools and most of them are exposed to the dangers of fire on a daily basis. “Forget fire safety norms. During our inspections, we were surprised to find that in 50 per cent of government and corporation-owned schools, there was no water connection from the Delhi Jal Board,” Mehra said.
These schools don’t even have properly fitted electric supply lines, and hanging livewires are a common sight. “How can you expect these schools to ever apply for fire safety measures when they are not interested in getting water supply or proper installation of electric wires?” she asked.
Apart from the lack of fire safety, many of the schools owned by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) and the Delhi administration have almost crumbling structures, fit for demolition.
However, MCD councillor and chairperson of Education Committee Ashish Sood said, “The new school buildings are being constructed keeping in mind fire safety norms, and it is mandatory for them to first get the NOC from the Fire Department. But in old school buildings, which have not applied for fire inspection, we will ensure that all MCD schools get the NOC from the fire department by the next quarter.”
He also stated that the corporation would send notices to all schools under it or aided by it to install basic fire safety equipments and apply for NOCs from the Fire Department. The condition of Delhi Government schools is no different. However, when contacted, Director of Education Padmini Singla refused to comment on the issue. But parents are aghast to know that the schools they are sending their kids to have no fire safety. “First, getting our children enrolled in schools is a herculean task. We pay hefty sums as fees and now it is astonishing to find that these schools do not comply with basic fire safety norms. All we can do is: request the schools to apply for the NOC,” said Ayesha Siddiqui, a shocked parent.