TWENTY to thirty per cent of the hospitals have no fire extinguishing system, the health and family welfare minister said in the parliament on Wednesday in reply to a question of a member of parliament. It shows that standard protocols to prevent fire in about a third of the hospitals are absent and suggests that a third of the patients that go to public hospitals, where mostly the poor go, are at risk. This also suggests that the government is hardly concerned about the safety of the poor. The government should realise that fire safety is an important protocol that needs to be considered during the construction of buildings. The unpalatable truth is that members of these hospital staff do not have awareness of fire safety and the steps that need to be taken in the face of a disaster resulting from fire. The general apathy of the authorities concerned to workplace safety, including fire fighting measures, is mostly responsible for all this. Moreover, age-old laws and rules meant for regulating buildings, coupled with inadequate monitoring on part of the officials concerned, have contributed to the situation.
The issue at hand is non-compliance with the Fire Prevention and Extinguishing Act 2003. The act stipulates that multi-storey buildings should file reports on the fire safety measures to the authorities concerned. It also says that there should be regular fire drills. However, compliance with such provisions has mostly gone by default. The agencies entrusted with the responsibility to ensure compliance with the law are also found lacking. Greater responsibility to ensure compliance of this law devolves on Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha in the capital city. Hence, this agency should be held responsible for failing to enforce the rule. Such widespread lack of compliance and enforcement across the country has time and again resulted in devastating accidents. The inadequacy of the Fire Service and Civil Defence Department, especially in terms of logistics, has also been cruelly exposed in many fire incidents. It is indeed time to install and review the fire service arrangements in all private and public hospitals across the country.
The government must come out of its slumber and revamp the fire service department with adequate logistic support; but besides this, it must ensure that each and every hospital, clinic and healthcare centre has its own fire-fighting mechanism without having to wait for the arrival of fire engines from another quarter of cities or towns.