Licence to kill?

Revenue department’s decision to ease up the process of obtaining trade permits is a shocking departure from complying to fire-safety measures

Published: 22nd July 2019 05:42 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd July 2019 05:42 AM   |  A+A-

Pictures for representation

Express News Service

CHENNAI: In a bid to simplify issuing of trade licences, the city Corporation is set to allow shops with an area less than 500 square feet and with machinery, less than 5 HP (horsepower), apply for a permit online. While this may be a blessing for traders, this would also mean that more than one lakh shops in the city would function without fire safety measures. 

Previously, traders had to submit their applications at the monthly meetings where officials from health and fire department would be present. But now traders can apply on the Corporation website. The assistant revenue officer will clear applications online without the nod from the fire safety department, confirmed a senior official from the revenue department of the Greater Chennai Corporation. Though the move is aimed at simplification, it will allow the traders to get away without adhering to fire safety measures, more easily. 

Though the revenue officials argue that it is not mandatory for the shops to obtain a fire safety nod and there is no law that supports it. Experts say that the department has been following this flawed practice for long and they have only made it more simpler now.

The exemption has been given to traders in 135 businesses including fitness centres, bakeries, electrical shops, home appliance showrooms and browsing centres, which are all at high risk of fire. According to official data, there are 25,000 registered and one lakh unregistered stores in these categories.

What an irony 

“Fire is a destructor irrespective of the capacity of the machinery or the area it spreads across. For instance, UPS is put on charge throughout at a browsing centre. In case of a short circuit or improper wiring, even the ones adjacent to it will burn down to ashes. Every shop must hold a fire safety compliance certificate and it is an irony to see the civic body simplifying the licence procurement process,” said Kannan Balachandran, an activist from T Nagar, who filed a PIL after the Chennai Silks fire in 2017. A fire safety official on condition of anonymity said, “Most commercial establishments in the city lack fire safety licence. Major fires start in storage area and warehouses than production areas. Poorly stored goods, though they are not flammable, may act as a catalyst in spreading the fire and hinder firefighters from gaining access to the cause of the fire. So, the area does not hold significance at all.”

Not a mandate

The official said the fire department does not hold the authority to stop a commercial establishment from running their business and can only warn them. “If the revenue officials have exempted the stores, we cannot do anything, but just douse the fire when there is an accident. It is a policy decision,” he said.  However, the revenue department officials disagree that machinery below 5 HP can be as dangerous, and therefore it can be exempted. “After 2014, even when the traders have been attending the meetings, establishments below 500 sq ft were given licences without fire safety nod. The law does not mandate it,” says the revenue department official. Traders are unaware of this development. “Trade licence procurement process has always been difficult. We had to submit documents the department demands like consent document from the owner. We don’t know anything about fire safety. Nobody asked us to do anything,” said one of the traders on condition of anonymity at Vepery. 

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