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A proposal to amend the state’s fire safety law to add a provision for Statutory Fire Audit has been pending since 2014 – a fact that gains significance in the backdrop of a spate of fire incidents in hospitals, most of which ended up taking lives.
A former chief of Maharashtra Fire Services, Milind Deshmukh, had proposed an amendment to the Fire Act, mandating comprehensive third-party statutory fire audit by licensed professionals. Experts also recommended surprise inspections, and stringent implementation of the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act, 2006. The onus of carrying out these fire audits must be on the owner/occupier, he said.
Due to the lack of manpower in the fire services department, the 2006 Act empowers the chief of fire department to give license to private agencies to carry out compliance at hospitals, malls, educational institutions, establishments etc and issue a certificate (Form B) to the owner. It is the duty of the owner/occupier to furnish this certificate to the chief fire officer twice a year.
“The Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) – a provision in the law – empowers the authorities to inspect whether the information furnished in Form B is correct or not. But it’s not practical to make inspection of Form B mandatory as there are lakhs of establishments and they cannot be inspected twice a year. Hence, regular surprise inspection is important,” said Deshmukh, who was the Director of Maharashtra Fire Services for a decade and one of the top brains behind this Act.
Former chief fire officer Pratap Karguppikar said, “The big question is who does the work of inspecting Form B and whether the claims made by the licensed agency in it are true or false… There must be a committee to look into this.”
Further, Deshmukh said, “A few years back, I had collected data that the Fire department had served over 7,000 notices to establishments for violating norms. But…how many went to jail? As the law is loosely implemented…such fire incidents continue to take place.”
Replying to the questions raised by Deshmukh, Santosh Warick, the present Director of fire services department, said, “Due to a lack of manpower in the fire department, it is difficult to carry out the fire fighting work and then conduct inspection and ensure enforcement of the law. Hence, the task of inspection was assigned to a third party (private licensing agency). We have ensured some convictions in Mumbai but in the rest of the state, the implementation of law is not as strong due to manpower issues. We are now in the process of creating a system to accept Form B online.”
A pertinent issue is that the Act does not mention the word “Fire Audit” anywhere.