Delhi fire tragedy calls for introspection - GulfToday

Delhi fire tragedy calls for introspection

Delhi fire tragedy calls for introspection

Members of India's National Disaster Response Force head towards the site of a fire that swept through a factory where laborers were sleeping, in New Delhi. Reuters

The loss of several precious lives in a devastating fire that ripped through a bag factory in a congested area of New Delhi trapping scores of workers who were sleeping inside is a tragic and horrific incident that calls for a thorough, impartial investigation and deep introspection.

Delhi’s fire services director has been quoted in the media as saying that the site had been operating without the required fire safety clearances, and if so, officials responsible for allowing such a lapse should be identified and punished.

It is known that building laws and safety norms are routinely flouted in New Delhi.

Most of the victims in the latest tragedy were Muslim migrant workers from the impoverished border state of Bihar, earning as little as Rs150 rupees ($2.10) per day making handbags, caps and other garments. Distressingly, when the fire broke out, the workers were asleep between lengthy shifts.

The fire began on the lower storeys, spreading rapidly to the third floor where workers were sleeping. Most of the deaths were due to people inhaling poisonous gases inside the already cramped and dimly lit interiors. Rescuers had to carry out victims on their shoulders one-by-one with firefighters cutting away window grills to access the building.

The rescuers had to move dozens of rickshaws and bikes so that the firemen could make their way through the narrow lanes enmeshed with electrical wire.

Locals have been quoted as saying that the factory also made purses and jackets, and had just one entrance and 20 rooms on each floor that were connected by one internal stairway. This left people with little chance to escape.

All these also imply that safety norms were not given due importance.

The somber scene outside a nearby hospital morgue reflected the depth of the calamity, with anxious relatives and friends gathering to identify the bodies.

Many factories and small manufacturing units in big Indian cities are often located in old, cramped areas, where the cost of land is relatively cheaper.

Such units often also serve as sleeping quarters for poor, mostly migrant, workers, who manage to save money by staying overnight at their workplaces.

The blaze was the latest in a series of fire tragedies to hit India in recent years.

In 2016, more than 100 people were killed after a massive explosion during a banned fireworks display in the southern state of Kerala.

In 2011, at least 90 patients died after a fire in a Kolkata hospital. In 2004, 94 children burnt to death in a fire at a school in Kumbakonam in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

In January 2018, 17 workers were killed after a blaze in a plastic manufacturing facility in New Delhi.

The latest blaze is said to be one of the biggest fire incidents in Delhi after the Uphaar Cinema fire which took place on June 13, 1997 in south Delhi’s Green Park area leading to the deaths of 59 people and left over 100 injured.

The Delhi state government has promised to conduct a probe and initiate action against those responsible for the Rani Jhansi Road fire. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has also ordered a magisterial inquiry into the fire incident.

Leaders from all parties in power regularly make similar pledges after such tragedies, but honest corrective measures to prevent such incidents from ever repeating again are hardly taken, and that’s a bigger tragedy.