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God Save Panaji Market Shopkeepers From Fire

The government lists safety from fire among its prime concerns, but the Corporation of the City of Panaji (CCP) is yet to include it among its prime concerns, leaving it to Providence to save the lives and properties of shopkeepers of the municipal market complex.

A fire in the market can also put the lives of customers at risk. The CCP has failed to adhere to the recommendations of the fire and emergency services department. There have been at least five fire incidents since the new market was thrown open – the latest incident, caused by a short circuit, being reported last week.

In a major fire incident reported some months ago at least five shops were gutted, causing a loss of lakhs of rupees. It is 15 years since the new city market was opened, but the CCP is yet to renew the no-objection certificate it got for the market from the fire and emergency services department. The fire department had during inspections in 2012 and 2017 found a number of violations as regards to fire safety in the market and issued notices for compliance and made several recommendations, but the CCP has not complied with any of its recommendations till date.

That the CCP is not serious about fire safety could be concluded from the fact that it has turned a blind eye towards maintenance of firefighting equipment and installation of an effective fire prevention system in the market complex. No fire extinguishers can be found in the market complex. The glasses of the fire hose cabinets have been broken and the firefighting equipment are missing. Though the market complex has a huge water reservoir, it has not been connected to the hydrant systems. The water pumps in the complex are non-operational. There are no fire sprinklers. The fire alarm system is not in operation.

While the CCP built a huge complex it failed to provide power connection to the vendors who have been illegally tapping power for their shops and stalls. It is intriguing to find that the CCP authorities did not think of providing power connections to the vendors who conduct their business till 9 pm. Was it done to allow some shop keepers to sell power at a premium to other vendors? Wires carrying electricity illegally can be seen hanging at many places in the market but hardly any action has been taken to remove them and penalize the illegitimate consumers. The CCP authorities have failed to free the passages of encroachments by some vendors who have some powerful corporators’ blessings. This increases the risks of loss of human life and  damage to property as fire response needs free exit routes and ample space for fire and emergency workers to operate in case of a fire.

It is sheer chance that no major fire tragedy has taken place in the market. It would be very difficult to contain damage and loss of life if a major fire breaks out. The CCP wants vendors and shopkeepers to follow rules. But the CCP itself has not followed the rules concerning fire safety.

For 15 years the fire department has been waiting for the CCP to renew the fire NOC of the new market complex! CCP officials have escaped action for their negligence. While the government has made it mandatory for the builders and housing societies to provide for fire extinguishers in their complexes, such enforcement is absent in the city market. The basic rules of fire fighting have been compromised.

According to the Goa State Fire Force Act, all markets, malls, departmental stores and supermarkets which are extra fire prone must have an in-built fire fighting system. This is absent in the city market.  Belatedly, the government on Friday issued a notification making provision of fire extinguishers mandatory in all shops and establishments, guest houses, temporary structures and beach shacks which are covering an area upto 100 square meters.

The state government should strongly back the fire department’s enforcement of the rules and ensure that all public places including the municipal markets are fire safety compliant. As tragedies do not occur with an advance warning it is necessary that fire safety systems are put in place. The CCP must assign a high officer the responsibility for making sure that new firefighting equipment are installed, the encroachments are removed to keep exits clear in case of a fire hazard, and the equipment are replaced after their expiry date. This officer should organize fire drills for shopkeepers with the help of the fire department once or twice a year.

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