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

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Ordeal by Fire

Safety consciousness and disaster management awareness is sorely missing in Indian society.

The deaths of eight young people in a horrific fire (their bodies were charred beyond recognition) at a restaurant in Mumbai on 16 October are yet another textbook case of the cynicism that pervades fire safety norms in India. The hotel management had committed almost every violation of rules that could be committed, the authorities appeared clueless and claimed ignorance, and the residents staying around it had apparently noticed the illegalities but had predictably decided that complaining would yield nothing. More than any other factor that contributes to major fires in hospitals, high-rise buildings, cinema theatres, malls and hotels, among other structures, is this all-pervading cynicism among those involved—the authorities, the managements, and the patrons of these places, including society at large.

Together, this has built up a culture of knee-jerk responses from authorities immediately after a major fire, along with extensive media coverage for a few days, after which everything goes back to “normal.” The litigation in major cases drags on interminably with the punitive verdicts almost always described by the litigants as “too late and too little.”

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