BANGALORE: The incident, etched deep in the memories of the members of the nine families, still brings tears in their eyes. For the rest of the city, the Carlton Towers fire tragedy is a haunting incident that took place on this very day two years ago. The victim’s families have veiled their grief by initiating a movement ‘Beyond Carlton’.
On the second anniversary of the Carlton Towers tragedy, this is the only message that the victims’ families want to give to the city - ‘Let’s remember this day, not just as a memory of the tragedy that struck the city and took away our loved ones, but also as a day to put pressure back on the authorities to ensure that laws are implemented properly’.
Memories Die Hard
Thick smoke engulfed the top storey of the Carlton Towers building at 4.15 pm on February 23, 2010. A fire broke out in a lift service cable on the second floor and it spread to the upper floors through the duct. The personnel of the Fire and Emergency Services reached the spot only at 5 pm and managed to douse the flames by 6.15 pm. The lack of a proper let out for smoke and the locked fire emergency exits had the trapped people leaping to their death from windows.
“It was a life changing moment for us. For a four member family, to lose one of their loved ones, at a young age of 23 can be very difficult to forget. We remember our son daily even now. But such is life, we have hid our grief by doing something positive. We are trying to create fire safety awareness through Beyond Carlton,” said Uday Vijayan, the founder member of the group.
For Shantakumar, who lost his wife Benzie in the tragedy, life has thrown challenges of a different kind at him.
“I talk to my daughters sometimes about my wife and they remember her. It was a painful death and her suffering face still haunts me. I am trying to give all my time to my two daughters, but it is very tough. I take them out, we enjoy, but no one can match a mother, when it comes to loving their children,” said Shantakumar.
Jabeen Taj, on the other hand, lost her 23-year-old brother Fayaz Pasha, who was the pillar of their family, to the inferno. From that day on, life has become difficult for her. “I live in Rajarajeshwari Nagar. On the fateful day, there was a lot of noise and people were watching something on the news. I saw my brother leaping to his death,” she said as tears rolled down from her cheeks. Managing a family of over five people, with a two-month-old child and an ailing mother has stolen zing from her life.
“I worked and spent a lot of money to educate him and I was proud that he was standing on his own feet. After this tragedy, I thought that the authorities would wake up and immediately conduct checks to avoid such incidents. I keep hearing of such tragedies every now and then. I don’t think the authorities are doing anything about this,” she said.
What’s the Progress?
The Fire and Emergency Services Department attended to around 1,800 fire mishaps in 2011. This year, they have attended to around 372 incidents already. With the High Court ruling on a PIL filed by Beyond Carlton, the State government issued a notification, mandating cordination between BBMP and the states Fire and Emergency Services department to check fire safety measures in high rises. “It is a long process and the team is headed by five officers. We need to first inspect the places, communicate the lapses to the building owners, give them three months time and then issue notices if they haven’t followed the safety measures. There are around 6,000 such buildings in the city and several other unauthorized buildings. We have begun the process,” said B G Changappa, Director, Fire and Emergency Services. What is causing a big problem for the department is the lack of personnel to carry on the work. “We have requested the government to give us 60 more staff members to carry on the work,” Changappa said.
What is Beyond Carlton?
Beyond Carlton was formed to bring together those affected by the Carlton Towers fire tragedy. With time,and through various awareness initiatives, the membership of the group has expanded to encompass many citizens who are concerned about fire safety and are committed to ensure that something like this never happens again. In December 2010, Beyond Carlton filed a public interest litigation petition in the High Court. The court later directed the government to issue appropriate notification under section 13 of Karnataka Fire Services Act, 1964, for preventive measures for buildings 15 metres and above in height. The group believes that until things change, they can learn how to react in such emergencies and insist on greater safety measures.
Memorial Service today
The Beyond Carlton group is organising a memorial service and is initiating an annual memorial lecture at the Indiranagar Club on February 23. Swati Ramanathan, Co-founder of Janaagraha, will be delivering the First Memorial Lecture. The group will honour dedicated firemen with bravery awards at the event.