Aday after 14 people died in a massive fire at the Kamala Mills compound in Mumbai, Union Urban Development Minister Hardeep Puri said it was a wake-up call for Delhi. Perhaps the minister should have included almost all cities in India because this is one aspect that is given low priority in this country. After every tragedy, the authorities spring into action and in knee-jerk reactions, shut down restaurants or demolish buildings on the grounds that they are illegal. The story is playing out to the familiar script in Mumbai currently, with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation pulling down many structures in the Kamala Mills area. But fire department officials and experts will aver that this is just an eyewash to assuage public outrage. With time, corrupt civic officials in cahoots with restaurateurs will flout every rule, putting the lives of unsuspecting clients at risk.
The Kamala Mills fire was wholly avoidable. While there is still confusion over the cause, one thing is certain: the tragedy was waiting to happen. Firstly, the road and pathways leading to the complex were so narrow that it would not have allowed any fire tender to reach the spot. Secondly, it is unclear if 1 Above, the restaurant where the maximum number of guests died, was fire-compliant at all. While one section says the popular eatery had fire safety clearance, experts doubt it. They say if the restaurant did meet the norms, then the whole complex would not have been reduced to ashes in a matter of hours.
Many popular shopping complexes and eateries in Delhi, too, are a ticking time bomb. Under the current law in the city, restaurants and pubs with a declared seating capacity of less than 50 do not require clearance from the fire department. Most restaurants in Khan Market, one of the poshest markets in Delhi frequented even by diplomats, have such narrow passageways that escaping a fire of the magnitude of Kamala Mills would be near impossible. It is time authorities in India wake up to this dangerous reality.