Not much learnt from the Uphaar tragedy
The judgment that everyone was waiting for has arrived (Uphaar cinema was burnt down about ten years ago in Delhi and 59 people died), but no one’s happy. Least of all the relatives of the victims because they believe the guilty got off lightly. And the wealthy Ansal brothers feel they have been needlessly implicated and are planning to file an appeal. Today (Friday) is to be the day of the sentencing. (Later: You can read about the quantum of sentences here and here. The Ansal brothers got two years rigorous imprisonment each (the maximum they could) and those convicted of culpable homicide got 7 years each)
What they got
The Ansal brothers (Sushil and Gopal) who own the theater were convicted under section 304A of the IPC (along with 3 government officials) for causing death of cine-goers by their rash and negligent act under which the maximum punishment is 2 years.
Two Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) officials and a Delhi Fire Service officer were held guilty under sections 304A and 337 and 338 of the IPC (endangering human lives.) These officials gave a no-objection certificates’ to the theater.
Three Delhi Electricity Board officials and four others (employees of the Ansals who managed the theater on a daily basis) got heavier punishment. They have been convicted of culpable homicide not amounting to murder under Section 304 of the IPC, which carries a the maximum punishment of a life term.
Shockingly, not only was the theater not equipped properly, there were irregularities in electrical connections and to top it all – the gangway and doors to exit stairs at the venue were closed.
The One and Only lesson learnt
The question that everyone is asking is: What lessons have been learnt from the Uphaar tragedy?
Lesson number ONE: Those in authority have learnt to pay lip service.
Lesson ONLY: Those in authority know that they need to carry out checks, but mostly if someone’s looking!!
The ground reality…
isn’t good. On live television I saw a clip from a citizen journalist, a woman who had lost two children in the Uphaar tragedy. A hidden camera revealed that the emergency staircase in a high rise building was blocked and the fire-fighting equipment defunct. I am sure that any of us can walk into randomly chosen buildings and we will get to see similar sights. Avoid the swanky buildings ofcourse. It’s the older buildings which are in a terrible state…many don’t even have emergency staircases because fire prevention measures need to be taken during construction (using fire resistant materials, sprinklers, smoke detectors installed, easy availability of water, broad staircases about 8-12 feet wide). Older buildings do not have any of these things and nor do quite a few of the newer ones. And we are talking only of big cities here. The situation is worse in smaller places.
But that should be all the more reason why building owners need to be extra vigilant isn’t it? But this logic escapes the owners. Because alas, it is left to the owners. As it says here:
Though the National Building Code put together by the Centre provides detailed guidelines, fire safety is a state subject and many states have not made it mandatory.
Have things improved?
We keep hearing that they have…but I find it hard to believe…uh…maybe they have improved as compared to what it was like earlier. And now people at least know what they should do, even if most actually don’t. But there is hope because the impending Commonwealth Games has got Delhi working overtime to get things done on time! International visitors need to be impressed, right? And things are actually looking up. The Delhi Fire Prevention and Safety Act, 1986, which was to be replaced by Delhi Fire Services Act will see the light of day at the end of this year. It’s been pending since 1999!
Recently, I went to see Om Shanti Om at theater number 6 at Mulund’s PVR Cinema, one of the better cinema halls. When we were trooping out, I noticed that only half of the exit door on the left was open. There was a huge rush to get out (only two doors on either side of the screen were opened as is the norm) and this resulted in a human traffic jam. I tried to open the half-closed door which led into a passage (see diagram on the right) and to my surprise found that even though it was not locked, it was of no use opening it as it would have blocked the main door which led out from the passage onto the staircase. The two doors (the exit door from the cinema hall and the exit door from the passage into the stairwell) were touching each other at right angles! This exit door could not be blocked at any cost as people from both the exits of the cinema hall were using it to get out of the theater.
What is the point of doors if they are not usable? I think it’s pretty easy to fix this problem. Can’t the door be made to open on the inside or made into a sliding door? Nobody will do it because all they need to do is to ‘show’ the authorities that they have ‘wide’ doors. Showing is important – that’s the lesson learnt from the Uphaar convictions.
In fact Nirmal Lifestyles (the mall where this cinema hall is located) had a fire recently, and after this fire, authorities have gone into overdrive and are ostensibly checking whether safety rules are being followed by malls and multiplexes. I am sure they will find everything ‘in order’ in theatre number 6, if they do physically check.
Not just cinema halls
Why talk of only multiplexes and theatres? They are probably better than most. Certainly better than the fire-fighting state of hospitals, of high rise buildings, or of schools. In fact fire-safety norms are poorly followed in most schools in India. And ofcourse in our own homes.
Overall, there is a little compliance of safety norms in most places in our country. And that includes our own homes, whether apartments or bungalows.
Precautions to take
You can read about precautions you can take regarding your own building here and for safety tips to protect yourself in case of fire in hotels read this. And if you find that fire safety norms are being flouted in public places, make a complaint.
(All pics are linked to the originals except the diagram which is made by me)