Home News Two fatal fires in quick succession expose India’s security loopholes

Two fatal fires in quick succession expose India’s security loopholes


Seven newborns died when a fire engulfed a neonatal clinic in New Delhi, with the burnt-out exterior, charred spiral staircases and ash-covered oxygen cylinders all that remained of the two-storey building on Sunday morning.

Hours earlier, an amusement park with trampolines and bowling lanes turned into a sea of ​​fire in the western Indian city of Rajkot, where families of people who had come to enjoy discounted rides to mark the start of the summer vacation were left to identify bodies, many of them children, among at least 27 dead, charred beyond recognition.

After each of these deadly incidents, political leaders have been quick to offer condolences, announce arrests, launch investigations — and blame each other. But for analysts and experts who have warned for years about India’s poor fire preparedness, Saturday’s spate of disasters was another reminder of the lack of systemic changes needed to make the country safer.

India is the world’s most populous country, but building safety compliance remains poor. The fire department has long suffered from huge gaps in the number of fire stations, personnel and equipment. Government audits after mass casualty disasters have found glaring deficiencies, but there has been little follow-up.

Fires still kill more than 20 people a day in India, according to government statistics, though deaths have fallen over the past decade. Many of the fires, especially in crowded urban centers, are caused by short circuits, a worrying prospect as India braces for hot weather that puts enormous strain on power lines.

One major problem is that fire regulations are not enforced, said RC Sharma, a former Delhi fire chief. Another is that firefighting resources have not kept pace with rapid urbanization, which often does not take safety into account.

“We are not in a good situation,” Mr. Sharma said. “In other countries, there are fire hydrants and everything. But in India, we don’t even have drinking water 24/7, so we don’t think about having water for firefighting 24/7.”

data Provided to the Indian Parliament in 2019 A report released by the Ministry of Home Affairs says India’s fire preparedness is very poor and has major deficiencies. India has only 3,377 fire stations, while the law requires 8,559. The shortage of personnel and equipment is even worse. The fire department has only about 55,000 personnel, while the law requires 500,000, and only 7,300 fire trucks, while the law requires 33,000.

It’s unclear how much of those gaps have been filled in the five years since. In a sign that much work remains to be done, India’s central government last year announced a new $600 million plan to expand and modernize the fire service and to mobilize more resources from the states.

Government audits have repeatedly highlighted the vulnerability of public buildings, especially hospitals.

A study A survey last year of hospitals in India that had experienced fires in the past decade showed that half of them had safety measures that did not meet legal requirements. The situation was similar in private and public hospitals. Nearly 90% of fires were caused by short circuits.

In one state, where a fire killed 10 babies in a neonatal unit, an assessment found that more than 80% of the state’s hospitals had never undergone a fire safety audit; half of the hospitals had never conducted a fire drill; and only a minority of hospitals had fire safety certificates.

“People tend to follow the letter but not the spirit,” said SA Abbasi, professor emeritus at Pondicherry University and lead author of the report. “Negligence and laxity remain the norm rather than the exception.”

The cause of the fire at the amusement park in Rajkot, Gujarat, is unclear, but the initial police complaint, a copy of which was seen by The New York Times, made clear that the facility lacked both a license from the fire department and effective fire equipment and procedures.

Rajkot Fire Department chief Ilesh Kher said the fire at the facility broke out just before 6 p.m. and was under control in a little over an hour. He did not know how many people were present when the fire broke out, but witnesses on local news said there were more than 100 people.

The structure appeared to be a makeshift structure constructed from iron poles and metal sheets.

Daksh Kujadia, a teenager who went bowling with his cousin, said the fire started below the emergency exit. About 30 people were trapped in the bowling lane.

“We had no choice but to tear out the metal sheeting in the corners,” he said. Tell your local news media“Fifteen of us jumped out of there.”

Neighbors at the Delhi Neonatal Hospital, a two-storey building inside a residential building where the fire broke out before midnight, said the hospital was the scene of frequent disputes as trucks often blocked the road outside the hospital to unload large oxygen cylinders.

“We held onto each other and crawled into the building from the back,” said Ravi Gupta, who lives nearby and helped evacuate a dozen babies from the back of the building as the front caught fire, oxygen cylinders burst and there were multiple explosions. “We brought ladders and sheets from our homes. I took the babies out of the fire and lowered them down.”

Healthcare in Delhi, India’s capital, has been in turmoil in recent years. Political struggle The dispute is between Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s central government and Delhi’s elected local government, led by the smaller opposition Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which accuses Modi of using his control over government officials to hinder its efforts.

The blame is flying after Saturday’s fatal hospital fire.

Pankaj Luthra, a Modi party official from the community where the hospital is located, accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (AAP) of giving the licence to the hospital. He said there had been complaints that the hospital was illegally refilling oxygen cylinders.

BJP Delhi Health Minister Saurabh Bhardwaj released a statement complained that the most senior official in Delhi’s health department – a civil servant who technically worked under Bhardwaj’s supervision but actually reported to the central government – ignored his calls and messages.

“I came to know about the incident through media reports,” Mr. Bhardwaj said.

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