ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Playing with Lives

The AMRI hospital tragedy shows (once again) how little we prioritise disaster management.

The fire in the AMRI hospital in Kolkata on 9 December that led to 90 people (patients and a few members of the staff) suffocating to death is one of the worst such tragedies in the nation’s history. The causative factors were the lack of stringent inspection of fire safety mechanisms by the authorities, granting of permissions despite non-compliance, use of space meant for parking to store highly inflammable material, total unpreparedness of the staff to deal with such an emergency (obviously due to lack of even rudimentary training) and a callous disregard for the safety of patients in a place meant to save their lives.

The failure thus was at a number of levels and across agencies, but especially by the municipal body and hospital administration. It now transpires that a four-member team of the fire and emergency department had visited the hospital in August and found that tier one of the basement was full of hazardous material while tier two was being used as a diagnostic centre. Officials from the department told the media that Section 35 of the West Bengal Fire Services Act empowers them to issue a closure notice and shift patients to another hospital within 24 hours in the face of such non-compliance. Yet, nothing of the kind was done.

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