In Retrospect

Hauz Khas village: tragedy waiting to happen

In context to the recent Kamala Mills fire accident in Mumbai, how safe is Delhi’s youth-famous party den Hauz Khas Village? Abhay Singh finds out whether the place has enough resources and proper precautionary measures to prevent or fight off a fire accident.

Entering the Capital's famed Hauz Khas Village (HKV) one can spot innumerable bars and restaurants, and people going about enjoying the nightlife of the city. "It feels as though we are in another world. You have good food to eat, you can dance and if anybody wants liquor it is also there in abundance, all under one roof called Hauz Khas Village," defined Aditi a regular visitor of the party den.

More than 1400 kilometres away in Mumbai, a fire which broke out in Kamala Mills killed more than 20 people shocking the entire nation, on December 28, 2017. It was an alert-like situation for several areas across the country, especially in the Hauz Khas area, to take serious steps in preventing fire disasters.
"One commercial lane of 600 meters have around 21 bars and restaurants, and needs to take proper precautions to prevent fire," said Satinder Sarna, President, Hauz Khas Village traders association. He further added that they were alert post the incident in Mumbai and are also trying to make sure that no similar incident occurs here in the Village, which is claimed to be more than 200 years old. According to the restaurant owners precautions for fire is being taken as per existing guidelines in the law.
Narrow lanes and stairs feature the Village which connects restaurants to bars or tattoo shops. One such building numbered 30 in the area, is owned by Raj Kumar Dhingra, and has around six to seven restaurants operating presently. According to the owner, the building has its own pumping system through which they can control the situation if a fire breaks out at any part of the building.
Explaining the engine pump, Anil a plumber who attends to the machine told Millennium Post that they have several engine pumps; one type can be run through diesel while another through electricity and every floor of the building has proper fire safety measures. Dhingra also expressed his regret on the Kamala Mills fire incident, calling it a sad news. "There should be proper precautions for fire. Every building should have fire safety measures for the security of partons," said Dhingra.
Another restaurant owner, who wished to remain anonymous stated that in case of fire, it is controlled via teamwork. There was a small electric fire in HKV last year and all the restaurants got together and controlled it in 10 minutes.
The fire department has done fire drills in HKV. He further stated, "In the last 25 years there has never been any serious fire issue – although we are trying to communicate with the concerned authorities to help us in solving this issue." Being the president, Satinder Sarna also has two restaurants, he stated in the New Years eve an alert was there. They had taken proper precautionary steps for the safety of the party-goers, from medical attendants to fire tenders, all were arranged.
The village is not only the hub of Delhiites but also foreign tourists come to enjoy here. One of the visitors, Aditya, a resident of South Delhi, who was there with his female friend stated that they have seen the fire incident in Kamala Mills in news. "Precaution is important, Hauz Khas has been a tourist hub, I have never seen any fire break out here, and hope nothing happens. It's a fantastic place to be in," said Aditya.
According to the traders association, in the past few years, they have seen a major development in the growing number of pubs and restaurants. With less than 40 pubs in HKV, they all claim to be fully compliant with every single license including fire NOC and tourism license.
"The old feel of the village is retained, in the architectural influence of the buildings, the creative interiors and above all the beckoning charm of history, culture with a feeling which is old but still warm," said Sarna.
Reasons behind high casualties:
The Delhi Fire Service came to help the people who visit bars and pubs for celebrations. Talking to Millennium Post, Chief Fire Officer Atul Garg said that there are several reasons owing to high causalities in pubs.
"In most pubs there is a single entry and exit point and if a fire breaks out, it can be tough to escape," said Garg. He further described some other reasons being the dim lighting and the artificially-created smoke in the pubs which might disable people from identifying a fire in the first place. Other than these, mostly people are under the influence of liquor in pubs due to which they cannot sense a fire. Because of the artificial smoke already present in the interiors, many might mistake a real fire accident to be artificial smoke, until it's too late," said chief fire officer.
According to Delhi Fire Service, if any person goes to a pub for celebrations he or she should make sure that they know the escape routes which will be vital if any fire incident takes place.
Only 400 restaurants have NOC in Delhi:
When asked how many restaurants have No Objection Certificates (NOC), a fire official stated that approximately 400 restaurants have them in the entire city. The official further added that if the restaurants have a seating capacity of less than 50 persons, they will not require 'no objection' certificates; and many restaurants avoid the NOC procedure claiming to have less than 50 seats.
In Hauz Khas only four restaurants have NOCs. According to chief fire official, "In case there is a big fire, the streets in the village are not wide enough for a fire tender to move easily in case of an emergency. You cannot turn fire tender in the market as space is very less and it is congested," said the fire official.
Delhi Police held meetings:
Not only Fire Brigade but Delhi Police have also conducted safety audit meetings recently with the restaurant and other eatery owners in which they have discussed about the safety and security of the pubs. "We told them to take care of few issues, like if there are any dark spots nearby their restaurants they, must make sure to install proper lighting and CCTV cameras," said a senior police official. Deputy Commissioner of Police (South) Romil Baaniya recently held a meeting with the restaurant and pub owners in South District regarding the safety audit to keep a close watch on troublemakers helping police in maintaining public safety during celebrations.
Inspection unearths negligence:
Taking the note of the ghastly incident of Kamala Mills fire in Mumbai, Delhi Fire Service (DFS) conducted an inspection in restaurants especially in the crowded places to check whether they are following safety norms, and found that nine restaurants lacking safety measures. When asked about the location of the restaurants, the senior fire official claimed that most of them are situated in Connaught Place.
Security concerns at bars:
A recent case in Greater Kailash 1 has raised a serious concerned about the security inside the bar. On December 31, a 30-year-old man was shot after an argument over dance. Police claimed that the accused was caught by the public and later was arrested. The license of the bar where the man was shot at has been suspended by the licensing branch. Police claimed that they have also taken action against the concerned police personnel.
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