Wednesday, October 21, 2009

FIRE SAFETY: How Regulations are sabotaged by Maharashtra Government

Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) and Maharashtra Government has given in to pressures from builders, and made far-reaching changes in existing laws through the back-door. Bypassing the state legislature, they issued GRs (circulars) that negate existing laws and Development Control Regulations (DC Rules). These changes are endangering lakhs of people in high-rise buildings, and in fact, entire neighbourhoods which are a combustible mix of high-rise buildings, slums, illegal encroachments, CNG filling stations, stores, unauthorized godowns and factories, etc.

How was this legal scam carried out? Read the below scans from a book on Mumbai's REVISED Development Control Rules 1991 (2003-04 edition). I have marked key points in these scans with a red dot. Also, many lines are underlined by Mumbai’s Chief Fire Officer P D Karguppikar who gave these to me during an RTI Inspection.


A. TOWER-LINE STRUCTURES: Under Greater Mumbai's Development Control Rules 1991,the fire-safety norms dictate that for Tower-like structures, "Notwithstanding any provisions to the contrary, a tower-like structure may be permitted only with 6 m open space at the ground level and one set-back at the upper levels provided that the total height does not exceed 24 m. If it exceeds 24 m but does not exceed 37.5 m, the minimum open space at ground level shall be 9 m. Beyond 37.5 m, the minimum open space at ground level shall be 12 m with two set-backs at upper levels. The terrace created by the set-back shall be accessible through a common passage and/or a common staircase."

(1) Specific Rules for Towers:

(2) Open Space – Key Fire Safety Norm:

[EXPLANATION: Fire brigade vehicles need a certain minimum amount of space in order to move about, and for making ladders etc stand up near the building for rescue operations in case of a fire. As the height of the building increases, this space requirement proportionately increases, as the minimum inclination of the rescue ladder, snorkel or rescue-cage must be maintained.]

However, a circular was issued in 1996 for repairs & reconstruction of old dilapidate buildings in the Island City of Mumbai, which allowed these crucial space requirements to be compromised, or even completely removed. "The reconstruction will be permitted even with concession in marginal open spaces upto zero feet open spaces on three sides and 5 feet open spaces on one side," says Circular No. CHE/1722/DP/GP/City of 16-2-1996. At another point, this circular says, "… Where proposed height exceeds 24 m, under such reconstruction, building upto height of 30 m (ground + 9 upper floors) will be permitted if open space of at least 1.5 m is provided on one side without insisting on No Objection from Chief Fire Officer.

(3) Negation of Fire Safety Norms:

[EXPLANATION: Building constructed under these revised space requirements are seriously at risk in the event of a fire, as no external access is possible for fire brigade. Furthermore, due to the close proximity of two buildings, the fire can easily spread from one building to another. Standing examples of such buildings are at Prathna Samaj, opposite Harkisondas Hospital: Ramkrupa Building (Ground plus 32 floors) is standing just 1.5 metres away from its compound wall, and 3 metres away from Rishabh building (Ground plus 28 floors) and also 3 metres from another neighbouring building of ground-plus-nine floors.]

So the crucial No Objection Certificate from Chief Fire Officer is not required for buildings any more. Even the Municipal Corporation's Occupation Certificate is no longer needed for residents to occupy the building. Circular no. MMC/1057 of 21-5-1996 virtually removed the need for these crucial certificates by making it possible to occupy a residential building without Occupation Certificate by paying a penalty of just Rs 50 per sq. m., and non-residential (ie. Shopping, commercial and industrial) building at Rs 100 per sq. m. As this penalty is a paltry amount, it deters nobody at all! And so, all sorts of fire-safety features that formerly were compulsory for high-rises are completely ignored. Sprinkler systems and fire-alarms are absent or non-functional, refuge-floors that must be available after every seven floors are not there, lift-shafts go down to large undivided and poorly ventilated basements where hundreds of cars with full of petrol, diesel, CNG, LPG and lubricating oils are parked…

(4) Sabotage of need for Occupation Certificate:

B. LIFTS AND PARKING BASEMENTS: Parking basements are a special fire hazard, especially when they have large undivided floor spaces, direct lift shafts and stairwells that can carry flames and hot gases to all the floors of the building. Visualize hundreds of cars sitting in the basements with petrol, diesel, CNG, LPG and lubricating oils of various sorts, and these are at the bottom of high-rises that are built with lift-shafts going to the basement (in violation of fire-safety norms).

In case of a fire, these basements will be impossible to vacate, and the explosive fire, smoke and hot gases would travel unimpeded to each floor through the lift shaft and stairwells unless they are built according to strict norms, which are detailed in the links below. However, think about all the malls and residential towers that you have visited, and you will see that these norms are usually flouted. Whenever you visit a mall or multiplex with your family, you are at terrible risk.

(5) Fire Safety Rules Governing Lifts in Buildings:

(6) Norms for Staircases and Divided Floor Space:

In short, our builder lobby and civic authorities have scripted a complete disaster-in-the-making. The time-bomb is ticking. It will only take one small fire in somebody's basement to set off a huge explosion that the Fire Brigade cannot control, and the building's occupants cannot escape.

Please take action to prevent such occurances. Otherwise, in the aftermath, all the public breast-beating and soul-searching of officials and politicians will just be a sad joke on Mumbai's millions.

GRI Columnist:

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