Mushrooming of illegal factories, commercial establishments and open flouting of fire rules are mostly cited for such incidents.


New Delhi: The tragic death of 27 people in the Mundka fire incident in Delhi has once again exposed the fire safety standards of hundreds of commercial and institutional buildings, factories, hospitals and even schools that are operating without a fire safety certificate in the city, making thousands of people vulnerable to fire incidents.
In the last 20 days, more than 1,100 incidents of fire have been reported from Delhi, most of which have come from commercial establishments, killing at least 35 people and injuring hundred others.
Delhi fire service officials say that unchecked mushrooming of “illegal” factories, “unauthorised colonies”, congested roads and multiplicity of authorities to check on commercial activities in Delhi are some of the prime reasons for frequent fire incidents in the national capital.
A senior fire official in Delhi told The Sunday Guardian that the situation in Delhi is quite peculiar and that the land-owning authorities and the licensing authorities most often than not overlook the fire safety requirements while handing over licenses to operate. “It is true that the fire department is the body that hands out fire safety certificates for all buildings, but it is the responsibility of the land-owning agencies and in this case the Delhi Development Authority and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi to inform us when a new building is being made to check for the fire safety standards in that particular place. But we have seen that in most cases we do not get that intimation. We can only intervene when a NOC for fire safety is applied to our office,” the senior fire official said.
The officer further explained that in case of a hospital, it is the responsibility of the licensing authority, the DGHS (Directorate General of Health Services) to check if the hospital is operating with all necessary safety parameters and if the fire department is not intimated about such lapses, the fire department does not have the authority to randomly go inside a hospital and check for fire safety standards.
Similarly, for schools it is the education department and for factories and commercial buildings it is the Delhi police and the Municipal Corporations that are responsible for checking whether all parameters are followed or not. According to a list accessed from the fire department by The Sunday Guardian, hospitals like St. Stephens hospital in Tis Hazari, Bensups hospital, Maharaja Agarsen Hospital in Dwarka, BL Kapur hospital in Karol Bagh, the Trauma Centre at the DDU hospital in West Delhi, among many others, have shortcomings in their fire safety standards which have been flagged to them by the Delhi fire department.
According to the list, multiple Delhi government schools also lack fire safety certificates. Not only this, even hundreds of commercial buildings spread across Delhi have no fire safety certificates. According to the estimate of the fire officer quoted above, more than 50% of the commercial establishments in Delhi are operating without a fire safety certificate–this includes restaurants, shops and of course factories that have been growing illegally in the residential colonies of Delhi.
Following incidents of increasing fire in Delhi, two separate panels were formed to understand and submit recommendations to tackle fire incidents in Delhi and to curb the growing illegal industrial activities in residential colonies. Both the committees—one formed by the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and the other, an interdepartmental committee headed by the South Municipal Corporation of Delhi’s Town Planner—had submitted their reports in 2020 and 2021 respectively. But officials said that nothing has been done to their recommendations and the reports have been sent to cold storage.
Delhi Fire Services chief Atul Garg speaking to The Sunday Guardian also reiterated that the job of the Delhi fire services is to mitigate fire incidents and save as many lives as possible and that, it is responsibility of the MCDs and the licensing authorities to ensure that no illegal industries or commercial activities take place in Delhi. Garg further told this newspaper that Delhi is witnessing a large number of fire incidents from the illegal commercial and industrial units this year.
“We are noticing a large number of fire incidents from the industrial units in Delhi and the reason could be that such industries mostly function illegally and have no fire safety standards in place. The industries were shut for a very long time due to the Covid-19 situation and now that they have opened, these places are running without even oiling and greasing their machines. The electrical equipment before being used is not checked and we have noticed that most of these fires are due to short circuits,” Atul Garg told this newspaper.
Speaking about the difficulties in mitigating fire when the officers are on the ground, Garg said, “Most of the illegal industrial units are in congested residential colonies of Delhi and on many occasions, for the fire tenders to reach those places becomes a problem. Delhi roads are congested, the traffic situation in Delhi is very bad. For instance, in the Mundka fire incident, our fire tenders got stuck in traffic as the Delhi police had barricaded the road and vehicular traffic was stopped, leading to pile up of vehicles on the road and the road leading to that particular building was quite narrow. Such are the challenges that our men face on the ground.”
However, Garg also said that the Delhi fire service is well-equipped with all the latest equipment from around the world and that the department has recently brought all the latest technology of fire fighting in Delhi. “The Delhi fire services have no dearth of technology or funds. We had a shortage of manpower which we are going to take care of by this July. By the end of July, we will have our full strength. As far as equipment is concerned, we have more than 200 fire tenders stationed in Delhi; the latest equipment is all there with us,” Garg said. The Delhi fire services have a sanctioned strength of 3,000 personnel, and currently have about 2,500 personnel on the ground. 500 others have been recruited by the fire services and are currently undergoing training.