Fire safety, a non-issue for GHMC

The corporation ignored fire safety renewal. The fire license or no objection certificate is valid for three years from the date of issue

HYDERABAD: The recent fire accidents in the city have exposed the negligence of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) authorities pertaining to fire safety.

Though the corporation, in tandem with the state Disaster Response and Fire Services Department, has to conduct safety audit to buildings of education institutions, residential apartments, hotels, hospitals and sanatoria, custodial institutions, telephone exchanges, Assembly buildings, theatres, multiplexes, commercial centres, mercantile centres, and several others, inquiry reveals that no audit has been conducted in the recent past on any of these buildings.

Though the corporation conducted fire audit of city pubs, schools, coaching centres, hospitals and other establishments in the last three years, surprisingly, it has ignored its own buildings not only at the circle and zonal level, but also its headquarters located near the Tank Bund.

This official apathy resulted in a fire accident in GHMC's zonal office located in Secunderabad on January 12. Fire engulfed the tax section on the third floor of the building. Fire tenders were rushed to the spot and the fire was doused after struggling for two hours. On the same day, fire broke out in the warehouse of an electric warehouse at Ranigunj.

The mishap took place on the first floor of the building on Ranigunj main road. In another incident, on January 3, a major fire broke out at Shiva Parvathi Cinema in KPHB Colony. The entire single-screen theatre was gutted in the fire. Chairs, screen, roof, walls, sound boxes and other equipment were found completely charred. Thankfully, there were no causalities in all the incidents.

According to highly placed sources, the GHMC in 2018 decided to reform the fire safety norms, especially at places where public gather in large numbers, like hotels, pubs and restaurants. The corporation has already taken up a scrutiny of the fire safety norms in 2018. It issued notices to educational institutions, pubs, hospitals and coaching centres as part of the exercise. Authorities claimed that they had ensured fire safety compliance to all structures. However, the corporation ignored fire safety renewal. The fire license or no objection certificate is valid for three years from the date of issue. However, it has to be renewed at the end of the given time limit.

Over 90 per cent of licenses of all establishments in the city have either expired or about to expire. Sources said the GHMC authorities had been ignoring the fire safety of its own buildings in circle, zonal and GHMC headquarters.

As per the National Building Code 2005, even non-high-rise buildings should provide certain firefighting equipment on their premises. But both the GHMC and fire services had been concentrating only on high-rises. No objection certificates by fire services and Airports Authority of India are mandatory for high-rises. Sources said if inspected, 95 per cent buildings in the city were non-compliant to fire safety norms and dysfunctional fire extinguishers were found in almost every building. This apart, in case of high-rise buildings, where the concessions in all round setbacks would be considered subject to maintaining minimum clear setback of 7 metres on all sides, it should be certified in the site plan.

A senior GHMC official, requesting anonymity, admitted that majority of buildings in the city are non-compliant to fire safety norms. He said due to multiple activities taken up by the civic body, the fire safety audit had always taken a backseat. However, special focus would be laid to ensure that all the structures in the city was in compliance with fire safety norms, he said.

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