Millennium Post

Systemic failures

The larger part of civic progression was to aptly cater to the lapses and lacunae detrimental to urban settlements. Be it faulty structures, substandard materials, illegal construction, epidemics, water-logging, potholes, et al, the predominant focus of a welfare state is to resolve issues to public health as the society progresses. Various authorities to deal with systematic procedures for clearances have been set up to ensure robust administration of civic affairs. The norms are put up to ensure regulation as per safety standards. All of this so that the society does not face any disaster. Yet, accidents occur due to lapses and it is crucial to tend to the lapses for minimising them. However, substandardness has led to many preventable disasters and deaths. The reason for an audacious attempt at sacrificing quality mostly is because of quantity. Here, money and quantity become synonymous since the only instance to sacrifice on quality issues concerning public safety is when it accrues monetary advantage. No-Objection certificates (NOC) are issued on suboptimal projects with corruption taking the centre stage, jeopardising safety. Not just issued but renewed because of primary issuance which may even go on till mishap occurs. Because when it does, the matter would be out for scrutiny and everyone will be concealing facts with few absconding for being directly accountable. Faulty construction, NOC despite lapses – every step has faults which increase the chances of a disaster. Comprehensively, it may be called a systematic failure. Failure on the implementation part of the excellent norms and regulations. Lapses in implementation, owing to a callous attitude, have the probability of being disastrous. Fire disaster in the Karol Bagh hotel is the most recent example of that. 17 were killed in the fire which broke out at Arpit Palace Hotel, bringing the spotlight on fire safety norms being flouted - yet again. The fire mishap is, indeed, an outcome of initial mismanagement both on the authority's as well as the owner's part. Concerned officers who granted NOC to the hotel despite non-compliance of norms are obviously at fault. But so are the owners who applied and pushed for the same knowing their substandardness. This is not just flouting norms but it is cheating the public. And this cheating has cost lives. A possible plot for deliberately spreading the fire to accrue insurance claim can also be a situation. All this is just inhumane when one considers the loss. The judicial system differentiates between civil and criminal procedures primarily on this note that the former, nevertheless severe, does not cost lives. That is why the latter also has capital punishment to its ranks. However, the current fire episode sounds like a dubious case of criminal offence. The intention makes all the difference. Many deliberate incidents have been passed as accidents with no one held directly responsible. Repeated fire incidents raise questions regarding the authority's efficacy. It also concerns the public at large regarding hotels and other buildings that may be proactively flouting fire safety rules. NOC on substandard quality reduces safety standards to just a leap of faith by the public. Since the safeguards (licences and norms) then cannot be trusted, there is absolutely nothing to ensure safety, with no one in particular to blame – both authority and service provider collude in sacrificing standards. The other aspect of this recent fire crisis highlights the response side. Shortage of fire tenders and special vehicles, old and expired equipment, staff crunch, don't actually augur well for tending to such disasters. The preventive side is sure to be condemned in this issue but it also throws light on the curative side. In the wake of such disasters, the immediate requirement of fire services is paramount. In this regard, it can be further disastrous should the fire services turn out to be suboptimal. Spending trillions on defence to procure armaments for securing the nation and not doing the same for strengthening fire services or, for that matter, any public disaster management service is a matter of grave concern. After all, both are done in national and public interest, giving priority to the security of the citizens. In the wake of this incident in Karol Bagh, 57 NOCs have been cancelled in just 3 days upon robust inspection. As per Delhi Fire Services, out of 2050 hotels in the city, only 1540 meet fire-safety parameters. It cannot be so that this statistic came to light after the recent incident. Therefore, this raises concern regarding the laxity on the authority's part since the lack of regular inspection is what leads to so many defaulters. In such a case, an overhaul of systematic procedures apart from strict routine inspections are a must. A double-check of standards – one by the regular officer and one by someone else – will ensure the veracity of clearances and licences. Unless the authority takes a holistic and proactive approach towards urban infrastructures, settlements will always be at the risk of suffering unparalleled disasters.

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