Prelims level : Environment Mains level : GS-III Technology, Economic Development, Environment
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Why in News:

  • More than 20 students died in a massive fire in a Surat coaching centre.
  • Besides fixing accountability, the tragedy calls for updating the fire safety protocol countrywide.
  • What are the shortfalls in this regard?

    • The Surat fire cannot be completely called an accident.
    • As, there are reports of notices having been served to the builder on the risks, but not pursued. Two deaths had occurred in another coaching centre in the city the previous year too. The earlier tragedies, at least, should have led to a comprehensive review of public buildings. But civic officials were largely indifferent to these.

    What are the larger concerns?

    • India’s abysmal record on fire safety is reflected in the death of 17,700 people countrywide in fires (public and residential buildings) during 2015. Notable ones are the Uphaar cinema blaze in Delhi that killed 59 people in 1997, and Kumbakonam school fire in Tamil Nadu in 2004 that killed 94 children. The latest tragedy highlights the gap between India’s dreamy smart cities visions and the worrisome reality of urbanisation and lawlessness. None of these had been a strong case for governments to make fire safety the priority it should be. The courts too have allowed this to continue without severe penalties.
    • The prolonged, aggressive litigation by the affected families in the Uphaar case made no difference. The role of administrative machinery and officials who sanctioned unsafe buildings, often in return for bribes, remains largely unaddressed.

    What is to be done?

    • The present inquiry should go into any deviations from the sanctioned plan for the commercial building housing the coaching centre. The role of urban planning officials in allowing it to come up should also be inquired into.
    • It is essential now that the judiciary stresses on ‘no tolerance’ to corruption and evasion in the enforcement of building rules and fire safety.
    • Beyond suspending a few officials and filing cases against the building owners, the role of sanctioning and enforcement authorities should also be looked into. Mandating compulsory insurance for all public buildings against fire risk and public liability can help.
    • With this, the insurer would require a reduction of risk and compliance with building plans.
    • It would thus bring about a change to the way architects and builders approach the question of safety.
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