Published on: 21 August 2023 at 12:00 IST
In response to the tragic high-rise fire incident that occurred in Dhanbad district on January 31, 2023, resulting in multiple casualties, the Jharkhand High Court has taken significant steps to ensure the stringent implementation of fire safety measures across the state.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjaya Kumar Mishra and Justice Ananda Sen issued a set of directions aimed at preventing such incidents in the future.
Acting Chief Justice Aparesh Kumar Singh and Justice Deepak Roshan had taken suo motu cognizance of the matter on February 2, 2023, following two separate incidents in which five children and fourteen individuals lost their lives due to fire incidents.
The Court also considered other fire-related incidents in places like Ranchi and Gumla, where innocent lives were also lost.
The Court observed that the High Court’s bye-laws under the Municipal Act already mandate mandatory fire safety certification by the State agency, based on the building’s height and construction nature. However, these measures were often disregarded, leading to tragic outcomes.
To address this issue, the Court initiated the case and made the Chief Secretary and other high officials parties to the proceedings.
The Court emphasized that it cannot be a silent bystander when regulatory regimes are not properly enforced, leading to loss of innocent lives.
During the hearings, Salona Mittal, an Advocate and Amicus Curie, highlighted various gaps in the enforcement of fire safety laws and maintenance of appropriate standards to prevent fire accidents. She also referred to directions issued by the Goa bench of the Bombay High Court in the case of Gurudas G. Pai v. State of Goa, urging the Court to issue similar directions.
Division Bench’s Definitive Directions for Fire Safety:
- The division bench took decisive action to tackle fire safety concerns by issuing a comprehensive set of directions.
- These directions are aimed at ensuring strict adherence to building codes and regulations, ultimately enhancing fire safety measures.
Appointment of Nodal Officers and Inspections:
- One of the key directions is the appointment of nodal officers who will be responsible for conducting regular inspections.
- These officers will play a crucial role in identifying potential fire hazards and ensuring prompt corrective actions are taken.
Annual Fire Audits and Norm Compliance:
- The division bench emphasized the importance of annual fire audits for all relevant structures.
- This step ensures that fire safety measures are consistently maintained and any shortcomings are promptly addressed.
- Fire safety norms for installations such as hoardings and signboards will also be strictly monitored to prevent potential fire risks.
Fire Safety in Industrial Buildings:
- Industrial buildings are a focus area of these directions, with specific emphasis on adhering to fire safety norms.
- Stringent compliance measures are set to be put in place to prevent fire incidents in industrial settings.
Maintenance of Compliance Database:
- To ensure accountability and effective oversight, the establishment of a fire safety compliance database is mandated.
- This database will track the status of fire safety measures, enabling authorities to quickly identify areas that require attention.
Enhanced Fire-Fighting Measures:
- High habitation areas are slated to receive improved fire-fighting equipment to bolster emergency response capabilities.
- These measures are designed to minimize the impact of potential fires and protect residents.
Accessibility for Fire Engines:
- Adequate access for fire engines within municipal areas is highlighted as a critical factor in the directions.
- By ensuring unobstructed routes for fire engines, response times can be reduced, potentially saving lives and property.
In conclusion, the division bench’s definitive directions encompass a wide range of fire safety measures. From strict code compliance to the appointment of nodal officers and the establishment of compliance databases, these directions aim to enhance fire safety across different settings.
Case Title: Court on its own Motion Versus Chief Secretary, Govt. of Jharkhand and others