FIGHTING 'FIRE' WITH POLICY AND PLANNING


By Shreenesh Raman


Fires of fire engines are not unusual in a city, but this is also a sign that serious, yet basic requirements on fire safety are ignored. The 21st century city has come a long way from with sustainable development; the city's expansion was directly proportional to the population growth.

A. Srivatsan, Town Planner
After a major fire in the LIC building in Anna Salai in the 1970's, the Tamil Nadu government passed the Tamil Nadu Multistoried Buildings act. According to the Director of Tamil Nadu fire rescue and safety services the department started in 1908 under Madras Presidency frequently acquired equipment and man power to fight fire efficiently. He also revealed the fact of shrinking area of water bodies, affecting the water reserve.

Fire is usually put off using fire hydrants erected in every street corner. This has gradually come down, putting fire engines under pressure to carry more water. Since we adopted the British legal system with minor changes, the government seldom passed or updated laws.
The CMDA was formed in 1972 as a monitoring authority, perhaps the number of buildings shot up leading to increase in illegal structures. However the director further added that "over 10000 buildings are marked as illegal structures including some famous food chains and retail outlets".

In Indian legal system passing a new law costs crores of taxpayers money, the enforcement of such laws is not effective said a source in CMDA. City based town planner srivatsan said; legally every building comes under scrutiny by various public departments. He added that every state has its own laws derived from the national building code and Town and Country Planning Act.

The exchequer seldom invested in the fire and safety equipment. As a department initiative fire men in batches of 30 are sent for training to European countries and they are considered as pioneers in the field of fire fighting and rescue operations. Inter-Departmental relations are hampering the process of suggesting amendments in existing legal framework. Citing the school fire in kumbakonam in 2004 killing 94 kids, which lacked basic fire safety and parameter land around the built up area. Later investigation revealed that the school flouted basic safety norms by giving kickbacks to some public departments.

Analyzing the various sources of problems faced by fire safety department, traffic in the city of this magnitude hammers the smooth rescue operations. When caught up with the assistant commissioner of police, traffic M. Ravi said traffic police plays their level best when it comes to fire and rescue. We make sure to keep traffic under control in the accident area or divert the traffic. Traffic cop has also requested the Chennai Corporation to shift 700 obstructions in the road side to allow free flow of traffic.

Natraj also added that his department has no powers as such to recommend the CMDA in amending master plan, which involves all other local bodies. This made them 'toothless snakes'.

Even after 6 decades of independence the focus on development spread every corner of the country, but this development will not sustain long due to inadequate supporting infrastructure. Town planners are now suggesting developing the city vertically reducing the extensive use of land. Major drawback is when utilities are not developed without keeping in mind with the future demands.

Fire fighting can't be fought only with man power, it requires intelligence and efficiency. Awareness among city dwellers must be spread and school children must learn the basic fire fighting with frequent demonstrations. Stricter laws and enforcement with heavy punishments and huge fine can create a fear in those violating contractors. Local bodies like corporation and CMDA must have corruption free and transparent organisational setup.

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