The horrific fire at a Bhubaneswar hospital is a grim reminder of our poor infrastructure, erratic power supply with surges and dips and shoddy maintenance, factors further exacerbated by a cavalier attitude to use of power, with electricians encouraged to adopt shortcuts. The standard line on an electrical short-circuit having caused the fire will be no consolation to the families of those who died. For sick patients in a hospital ICU to die by asphyxiation as carbon monoxide raced through AC ducts must be a fate worse than the most terrible scenarios filmmakers can rustle up.
Another fire in a Mumbai highrise is further proof of how little we care about the hazards we place in our lives with cooking gas, piped or in cylinders, and today’s devices, some of which tend to overheat while charging. In short, we endanger our lives by living in unsafe environments. Only five years ago, a Kolkata hospital fire killed 85 patients as it took a toll of 90 lives, while a cinema caught fire and killed 59 filmgoers in New Delhi in 1997. The common thread through all this is a very Indian acceptance of poor safety norms just to save a few unwise pennies while risking lives. Such tragedies stemming from a lack of concern for lives is an Indian trait, and possibly evident in other poor countries. It’s a sign of underdevelopment, which we must shed as we progress economically. As individuals and as a society, we must learn to put a far higher value on lives.