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For Whom The Fire Bell Tolls

Home, sweet home: you go to work or go out on vacation and you feel so peaceful and de-stressed on your return home. But how often do you think that a fire could engulf your home any day, any moment? For your fault, or someone else’s or due to the overheating or overcharge of any one of the many equipment you have got at home for your comfort and convenience? It could be an appliance you use for cooking in the kitchen; it would be gas cylinder, washing machine, dryer, air conditioner, lighting equipment, fan and even dryer. It could be a candle causing fire. Fireworks and holiday light decorations of course add to the risk. And once a fire is caused it catches the wood of the furniture, the paper, the mattresses, the curtains, the clothes. And it can spread to homes of others living on the same floor and the same building.

That is why everyone has to take it very seriously when Goa’s director of fire and emergency services Ashok Menon warns us that 80 per cent of about 290 high rise buildings in the state have not been renewing their NOCs (no objection certificates) with his department. The high rise buildings include both commercial and residential properties. The standard practice the builders usually follow is get a certificate from the fire and emergency department when they are starting construction. After the construction of the building is complete the fire safety certificate has to be renewed every year. But in most of the cases, the owners of these buildings do not renew the NOCs. The builders of residential high rise properties wash their hands off putting the responsibility on the societies of apartment owners.

The scene is scary. All those who are living or working in high rise buildings are at great risk. The fire and emergency directorate conducted a survey of the state of fire safety in all the high rise buildings of the state and was aghast to find that in many of the buildings fire safety equipment were not in place or not functional. And the even more alarming thing is that the fire and emergency directorate does not have manpower to make regular checks in buildings. Worse, the directorate does not have power to force the owners of buildings to buy fire safety equipment and ensure that they are functional. It does not have power to force them to make separate staircases for escape in case of fire.

The fire and emergency services had a tough time fighting fire at Myle’s High at Patto in Panaji last year. Most of those working in the building could not escape owing to heavy smoke and rushed to the top floor. The story behind all the gloss of Myle’s High was the same: non-functional fire safety equipment.   The fire at Myle’s High has unfortunately not rung alarm bells in the minds of the officers of the government, owners of high rise buildings and the residents and occupants. For once, public pressure has to be built up to compel the authorities to enforce fire safety norms strictly.  And the new government led by Laxmikant Parsekar would do great service to the people by making the fire safety norms stricter for errant owners. There should be no compromise where lives of people are involved.  The fire and emergency service department should be empowered to take deterrent action against residential societies and industrial and commercial establishments, including private hospitals, petrol pumps, cinema halls and multiplex theatres which are not following the standard fire safety norms and fail to renew the NOC every year.

No Escape for Guru Rampal

Godman Sant Rampal is fighting a losing battle at his Hisar ashram, and in the process going to end up making some of his followers lose their life. Whatever defence he has to make he must make it in the court. He cannot protect himself from the law of the land with physical defence. Hel is facing trial in a murder case when his supporters opened fire on villagers of Rohtak in 2006, killing one and injuring many. On November 10, the Punjab and Haryana High Court directed the Haryana home secretary and director general of police to produce Rampal before it on November 17. The directive came after the police failed to produce him in court, despite non-bailable warrants issued against him. The Haryana government has gone about in a discreet manner. First, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar appealed to Rampal to uphold the dignity of the judicial process and submit himself to the process of law. He also appealed to his followers to cooperate in fulfilling the directions of the court. “In a democratic set-up, one must give utmost priority to uphold the dignity of the judicial system,” he told them. But neither Rampal nor his supporters listened. The government then cut off power and water supplies and also the supplies of milk and other essential goods to the ashram. Violence by his supporters is not going to help their guru. He has to co-operate with the court or be ready for worse. Rampal and his devotees should remember that the judicial system in this country treats a godman no different from another citizen in trial or judgement, as is apparent from Asaram Bapu case.


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