Human management

“A multi-pronged disaster management nightmare”

Days after a fire at a four-story commercial building in Mundka on May 13, the owners of the building and the owner of the fleeing tenant business were apprehended by the police. At least 27 people died in the blaze which injured 17, and survivors say the numbers are understated.

Nearly two weeks later, the families of the deceased are still waiting to receive the remains of their loved ones. West Delhi Police Deputy Commissioner Sameer Sharma reportedly said the results of forensic tests to identify the remains would be expected next week.

According to Atul Garg, director of the Delhi Fire Department, the Mundka fire “happened due to the complete negligence of the owners and the building authority. There were more than 200 people working there, there was only one staircase, that too was overloaded with equipment (electronics and plastic).

The building was four stories tall, with many more people working there than it could safely accommodate. A company assembling CCTV cameras, routers and other electronics operated out of the building, Garg said.

There was only one staircase and no fire safety equipment. “It depends on the work that will be done there, but the main requirements in all buildings are compartmentalization, the construction of two stairs of the required width, water tanks, pumps, pipes, a detection system. Any building should have these provisions. This particular building had none of that.

The owners did not have a no-objection certificate from a fire department official, which is necessary for any commercial establishment to obtain a license. “A fire NOC is required for all buildings in all locations, regardless of zone. Residential buildings don’t need NOCs, but all commercial buildings do… They never asked for NOCs.

Garg said the lack of safety equipment was compounded by the delay in calling the fire department. “Even if you provide a fire extinguisher, it would have done nothing to put out a fire of this magnitude… This fire grew to such magnitude because they passed the information on to the fire department very late. Eyewitnesses said the fire started around 4pm and we received the first call about the fire at 4.40pm on May 13th. This is the reason why when we arrived there, the fire was already very high.

After the fire, police arrested the tenant who ran the business as well as the owner of the building, Garg said. Reports say two brothers owned Cofe Impex Pvt Ltd, the CCTV maker, and police have filed culpable homicide and criminal conspiracy charges against them and building owner Manish Lakra.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal visited the site and ordered a full investigation into the incident. He also announced Rs 10 lakh ex gratia for the relatives of the deceased and Rs 50,000 for the injured.

Factory workers staged a protest march last week demanding the resignation of the labor minister and said the state and central government were protecting business owners and putting workers at risk by issuing licenses to operate without a NOC.

According to Madhav Raman, Principal Architect at Anagram Architects in New Delhi, “Because it was in the Laldora area, you wouldn’t expect them to submit drawings or plans. When it comes to constructing a building, you are not required to get sanctioned drawings here.

The 2021 Delhi Master Plan indicates that construction in these areas is meant to be residential. “But, you are allowed to undertake a certain level of industrial activity. This is called the “home industry”. Rules for domestic industry construction include limits on the number of workers and the amount of energy used. “No more than five people can be part of the production unit. They are not supposed to consume more than 5 kilowatts of power.

“If you look at the industrial activities allowed on village lands, this assembly of electronics does not come under the scope of things that are restricted. But he has to respect certain conditions of occupation, and that is where the problem lies… They are not illegal in their activities, but in their occupation of the building. They had broken the rules. »

Raman added that it was an openly commercial establishment and that not only the owners of the building, but also the fire department and the municipal corporation should also be held responsible.

“They should have gone into the building and inspected it, to see the storage and storage facilities… The fact is you can only issue a NOC if someone comes and asks you for an NOC… That’s the requirement of the junior engineer or engineer responsible for that area to keep an eye on.

The MCD and the fire department should have foreseen the danger. “These guys should have been around, they should have been sealing the properties regularly, they should have been imposing sanctions on these establishments… If the building has been around for fifteen years, how has it escaped their scrutiny so far? “

“There was criminal negligence on the part of MCD engineers who were supposed to monitor the activities in these buildings. They are not only supposed to enforce the master plan and regulations, they are supposed to regulate their operation. The firefighter is also supposed to inspect buildings ideally.

During the May 20 protest march, factory worker Suhana Khatoon told the Citizen, “Government officials take their commission and their bribe… The government is responsible. If their safety had been ensured, their names inscribed on all the documents, there would not be this distress today… It would not have been necessary if they had assumed their responsibility. But they don’t care. They are apathetic. It is we who are dying. »

Raman described commercial pressure. “A lot of Delhiites are suffering from the fact that we are a 2 crore strong city and we have demands for things like CCTV and industrial goods. The master plan has no idea how it’s going to generate the industrial zone where it’s needed… If they go to an industrial zone on the outskirts, the overhead will skyrocket, right? not ? There is a power dynamic that does not work in favor of these occupiers.

He recalled the deaths of two people in Gurgaon in February when seven floors of a Chintel Paradiso Society building collapsed. A structural audit was ordered and found some 80 unsafe buildings in the area. “There was a warrant out for the owner of Chintel, but they also found out there was an NBCC building that was also condemned because it wasn’t safe to be occupied… They didn’t didn’t stop the general manager.”

He said a meet and greet was arranged between the National Buildings Construction Corporation MD and the local residents welfare association. “What I mean is that when an accident happens, the criminal responsibility is transferred to the owners… The building took fifteen years, and to claim that the responsibility lies entirely with the owners is very unfair.

One of the first responders to the scene of the fire in Mundka was Sarabjeet Singh, an assistant divisional officer with the Delhi Fire Service. He confirms that the fire started around 4 p.m., while the first call to the control room was at 4:40 p.m.

“As soon as the department received the call, four fire engines were deployed to the area. But at the same time, we started getting a lot more calls, saying the fire had spread and gotten bigger, and people were trapped. And that’s when Control sent more trucks to the scene of the accident.

“This incident was declared a ‘serious call’, and for these situations many trucks are deployed, almost 25 and sometimes more… As it was on the main road, the public gathered and the trucks arriving there had created a blockage in the street. ”

“When we arrived at the scene, the fire had already spread a lot, the call had come quite late… The human body cannot withstand heat or smoke for too long, so those who have been trapped must have started to feel the effects from the first five minutes.”

“Apart from an oil fire, any other fire takes about 15-20 minutes to get worse… But in this case people were trapped inside, and I don’t understand why. It was quite strange.

He thinks there would have been a lot fewer injuries if the firefighters had been alerted a little earlier. “In any fire, if we get a timely call and the fire truck can reach the location immediately, then we can work well and the casualties can be greatly reduced. That’s a bit of a problem.”

Says Raman, “If there is to be a better understanding of what caused the loss of life, it ultimately starts with this mother-in-law treatment being given to urban villages rather than regularizing them.”

“Delhi is a disaster management nightmare on many fronts. Fire is the most apparent and shocking… There will be so many fires that go unreported or are reported in very minor ways. It is only when there is a loss of life, that there are immediately criminal problems. »

“Now that they are gone and have grandchildren of their own, who is going to take care of them?”