Matter of safety
The Delhi government's directive to the fire department to "immediately" shut down all coaching centres in the capital operating above the fourth floor of buildings as a precautionary step is necessary to prevent a repeat of what happened in Surat. Apart from the direct order to segregate centres which operate beyond the fourth floor, civic bodies will structurally assess the building and deduce whether it is safe or not. Crackdown on coaching centres has been a longstanding issue, unaddressed indefinitely. The city has thousands of coaching centres with few hubs that house a tremendous number of aspirants to various examinations. From school and college tuitions to competitive examinations, coaching centres have sprung up across the city attracting millions. Even the smallest of centres have a substantial attendance squeezed in small classrooms with inadequate safety standards. Karol Bagh, Kalu Sarai, Laxmi Nagar, Mukherjee Nagar, South Campus are some of the hubs which will be targetted by the authorities to inspect building safety norms. While this inspection drive will locate and shut centres which are flouting norms, it will aid in readjusting the vulnerable ones to adequate standards. The rising number of coaching centres also needs to be checked since the existing norms are very lenient for them to surface – no trading license required. Apart from hubs, coaching centres are opened in residential areas following their compliance with the Delhi Master Plan 2021. However, safety norms take the backseat once the centre is operational. The owners take a considerable risk by ignoring safety norms and running their centres without fire safety compliance. MCD took a lesson from the Karol Bagh fire which left 17 dead and formed dedicated teams to inspect safety standards of buildings. Surat fire has given impetus to locate the faulty cases and line them up for termination or alteration. They simply cannot be left unattended in wait for any tragedy to strike and cause loss of lives and infrastructure. As the Delhi Fire Services and MCD mobilise teams to inspect the coaching centres of the city, chalking out the defaulters and building a proxy-database of coaching institutes, inspection or closure alone would not help. Walking in old establishments across the city will inform an individual of how lackadaisical compliance is brutally common. Buildings sometimes have failed to comply by the high-rise limit which, in past times, has resulted in the closure of shops, businesses, etc., in the wake of non-compliance of the zonal limit. Many areas carry a fourth-floor cap beyond which construction, invariably, will be deemed illicit. It is, therefore, the duty of civic authorities to ensure that such non-compliance is not persistent and infrastructure existing is demolished in a designated time frame to prevent any scope of collateral damage in case of adversity such as a building collapse. Narrow exits, wooden chairs and tables, fake wooden walls, et al, all are detrimental to people's safety. Inaction regarding non-compliance by these coaching centres is not surprising given corruption and influence. However, now that Surat fire has attracted national attention, efforts to prevent any such tragedy will be undertaken in full swing. Depth of inspection must be maintained to ensure that safety standards are not just eyewash. It should be functional. Fire extinguishers should be stocked and sprinklers should be operational. A lot many times these centres have fire safety measures but their functioning may not be adept. A thorough inspection comprising all factors will tell the tale of Delhi's coaching business.
Following the Surat incident, a PIL has also been filed in the Supreme Court for regularisation of private coaching institutes. The PIL also requests for a framework to be chalked out for these coaching institutes on Centre's directive which will ensure a minimum standard for operation – not present in a lot of coaching centres today. The sheer number of coaching institutes directs to the idea of regularisation which would initially be troublesome since thousands have appeared but gradually it will be ordered. Regularisation and compliance of standard procedure for safety and operation will ensure a robust network of coaching centres with no hint of hazard.