Disasters and Disaster Management – Sendai Framework, Floods, Cyclones, etc.

What are fire safety rules, and why are there compliance challenges? | Explained 


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India (ADSI) report

Mains level: Laws and guidelines for fire safety in buildings;

Why in the News?

Recent fire tragedies at a Rajkot gaming zone and a Delhi children’s hospital that killed 40 people highlight the urgent need for stricter fire safety enforcement.

According to the latest Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India (ADSI) report

  • It was released by the “National Crimes Records Bureau (NCRB)”
  • In 2022, 7,435 people died in over 7,500 fire accidents. This data shows that heavy casualties from fire accidents persist, with no lessons learned from the 1997 Uphaar Cinema tragedy or the 2004 Kumbakonam fire that killed 90 schoolchildren.

What are the various laws and guidelines which stipulate rules around fire safety in buildings? 

  • National Building Code (NBC): Published by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) in 1970, last updated in 2016.
    • Part 4 of NBC is about the details of fire safety measures, including construction guidelines, materials, and safety protocols. They are mandatory for states to incorporate NBC recommendations into local buildings.
  • Model Building Bye Laws 2016: It is issued by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. It guides States/UTs in framing building bylaws with norms for fire protection and safety.
  • State Fire Services Act: Fire services are a state subject, and individual states have their own Fire Services Acts or building bylaws.
  • National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Guidelines: Provide fire safety instructions for homes, schools, and hospitals. Include recommendations on maintaining safety spaces, exit mechanisms, dedicated staircases, and evacuation drills.

Key Points from Fire Safety Regulations by Government:

  • Building Classification: Buildings are classified based on occupancy (e.g., Residential, Institutional, Assembly). Specific measures for high-rise buildings, educational institutes, hotels, etc.
  • Construction Material: Use of non-combustible materials. Internal walls of staircases should have a minimum 120-minute fire rating.
  • Electrical Safety: Flame retardant wiring and cabling. Separate shafts for different voltage wiring, sealed with fire-stop materials.
  • Emergency Power and Signage: Provision of emergency lighting, fire alarm systems, and public address systems. Clear exit signage and escape lighting.
  • Technological Measures: Automatic fire detection and alarm systems.Down-comer pipelines, dry riser pipelines, automatic sprinklers, fire barriers, and fireman’s lifts.

Challenges in Fire Safety Compliance

  • Lack of Uniform Legislation: Fire safety rules exist in all States, with many drawing from the NBC. However, due to the absence of uniform safety legislation and the NBC being a “recommendatory document,“ its provisions are frequently ignored at the local level.
  • Inadequate Fire Safety Audits: Local bodies fail to conduct regular fire safety checks, leading to non-compliance.
  • Staff Shortages: Insufficient staffing in fire departments exacerbates enforcement issues.
  • Community Awareness and Preparedness: Need for better community awareness and training on fire safety protocols and emergency response.

Judicial responses to negligence over Public Safety

  • Apex Court: The Judiciary has frequently pulled up state authorities for failure to enforce fire safety regulations. It highlighted the laxity in compliance and the need for stringent enforcement.
  • Legal Actions: Cases like the Rajkot gaming zone fire reveal the consequences of not adhering to fire safety norms. Courts have mandated regular fire safety audits and strict adherence to NBC guidelines.
  • The National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) emphasized the need for building community resilience and compliance with safety norms.
  • The report on “Fires in India: Learning Lessons for Urban Safety” underscored the failure of authorities to learn from past tragedies and enforce fire safety measures.

Way forward:

  • Building some National Standards: The National Building Code (NBC) needs to be converted from a recommendatory document to a mandatory standard across all states.
  • Regular Inspections: Mandate regular and frequent fire safety audits by local authorities.
  • Transparent Assessment: Allow third-party certified agencies to conduct independent fire safety audits to ensure unbiased assessments.

Mains PYQ:

Q Discuss the recent measures initiated in disaster management by the Government of India departing from the earlier reactive approach. (UPSC IAS/2020)

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