Wednesday , 17 October 2018
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Fire At Panaji Bus Stand Would Not Be The Last

The major fire that broke out at the supermarket and other premises at the Kadamba Transport Corporation (KTC) bus stand at Panaji early Monday morning destroyed property worth around Rs 4 crore. Luckily the fire broke out on a public holiday and early in the morning or there could have been human casualties. The fire was suspected to have been caused by short circuit. The fire not only destroyed the supermarket on the ground floor but also partly destroyed the physical records of the transport department. It took more than three hours for the 35 firefighting personnel to douse the fire. The task of the firefighters was partly hampered by the absence of open escape routes, lighting and signage. This is the second major incident at the Panaji bus stand. The first occurred some years ago when a restaurant had caught fire. The damage was not that extensive. Timely action by the fire services personnel saved the restaurant and some other shops from any damage. There have been minor fire incidents too.
While the exact cause of the Monday fire would be ascertained by the electricity department in a probe, there are enough indicators that old wiring could be behind it. Had the supermarket owner paid heed to the directions of the fire services department, the blaze could have been avoided. During an inspection conducted about five years ago, the fire services department had directed the supermarket owner to put fire safety equipment in place but he failed to comply. There were other factors that increased fire risks, such as unapproved modification of the store and closure of ventilation. No action was taken against the supermarket owner for unauthorized and risky works. The fire services department should have ordered the supermarket closed until the unauthorized works were dismantled and satisfactory fire safety measures were taken and complied with by the owner. The fire risk-increasing illegal works done by the supermarket owner and the indifference shown by the concerned government agencies to his violations proved costly to him, others and the KTC. The government should fix responsibility and take penal action against those responsible for unauthorized works and those acting indifferent to those actions.
The Monday fire should serve as a wakeup call for the state government. Let the government carry out an audit of the electrical wiring and fittings in all buildings, especially the old ones, so as to ensure that they are safe. It has been alleged that the wiring at the KTC bus stand was not replaced since the time it was done in the early 1980s. The indifference of the government agencies to make even buildings which houses its own departments and offices safe from fire hazards is monumental. Until a fire breaks out, nobody in the government gets concerned about it. The fire services department has been asking for more stringent laws and stronger enforcement and wider compliance to fire safety instructions; however, they all fall on deaf ears of the government.
We hope the government wakes up to make all public buildings safe from fire risks. Though it is mandatory for every building to have a fire evacuation plan in case of emergency, there was none in the building at the Panaji bus stand that was destroyed. It is shameful to observe that even the KTC, which is a public sector undertaking and owned the building, totally ignored the fire safety norms. True, the Panaji bus stand was constructed 37 years ago when the fire safety norms were not strictly implemented. However, nothing prevented the KTC management to enforce the measures suggested by the fire services department for safety from risks of fire.
It is sad that the government is goaded by a tragedy and that too briefly. Following the Monday morning blaze, the government has asked the Goa College of Engineering (GEC) to conduct an inspection of the structural stability of the Panaji bus stand. The inspection is intended to assess whether the bus stand could be put to use after repairs or it has to be brought down and constructed again. Whatever the recommendations of the GEC team, the government should seize the opportunity and ensure that all the fire safety norms are put in place to prevent similar incidents in the future. The government should provide for proper exits, cross ventilation, smoke detectors, fire alarms, automatic sprinklers and water mist systems in all public buildings. Periodical inspections of public buildings by the departments of fire services and electricity should be made compulsory. The inspecting teams should be given adequate powers to evacuate and close down the places which are not compliant with fire safety measures.

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