In a year of manmade tragedies like the Elphinstone bridge stampede and the fires in the city that took the lives of migrant workers in a snack shop and urban revellers in pubs, what has been shown up is how little India’s commercial capital cares for rules and regulations. Safety in crowded urban spaces is not something to be practiced so much as talked about in media debates. To wake up after a tragedy and start bemoaning the scant regard for rules or indulge in blame games as those in authorities tend to do is characteristic of Indian responses. Truth to tell, life is considered cheap and safety is what individuals are supposed to look after by themselves. The loss of lives in mishaps happens everywhere in the world, including in New York which lost citizens in a fire at about the same time as the Lower Parel blaze. The difference is not only in numbers but also in the attitude towards safety.
It is largely true that regulations like fire safety are for the rule books and a bribe can get businesses going in whatever circumstances they wish to. How callous businesses can get is made clear by a pub having closed its fire exits and pushed customers needing a quick exit towards another pub on the same rooftop.
Commerce is considered so vital as to obviate the need to follow any rules, guidelines or procedures. To see Mumbai wake up now and order a so-called safety audit of places using fire for cooking is typical of our governance. Things won’t change just because rules are tightened up or raids ordered because money will still find a way out of anything. The only way Indians can learn anything from such mishaps is to realise that it is worth investing in safety and insurance rather than feeling sorry after the event. This calls for an attitudinal change and a willingness to sacrifice a bit of profit for the sake of saving human lives at risk.