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Revisiting laws, updating records on high-rise buildings in Bangalore

Bangalore, March 1 (IANS) Various agencies have begun revisiting laws and updating data on high-rise buildings in Bangalore to prevent a repeat of the Carlton Towers fire tragedy that claimed nine lives.

There is no clear estimate of the number of high-rise buildings in the city although the fire department has issued the No Objection Certificate to around 1,500 such buildings in the last 10 years.

 

Buildings of 15 metre high or those with ground floor plus four floors are treated by the Bangalore authorities as high-rise buildings.

 

The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (Greater Bangalore City Corp) does not have the precise number of such buildings. ‘We are updating our records,’ said a BBMP official in the wake of the fire at the seven-storey Carlton Towers Tuesday.

 

Of the around 500 people at the Carlton Towers at that time, six jumped to death and three died of asphyxiation.

 

Preliminary probe by the fire department, the electricity department, BBMP and police indicates that cable wires caught fire resulting in thick, pungent smoke engulfing several floors.

 

With two of the three fire exits locked and the building poorly ventilated, people panicked and six occupants jumped to escape from top floors resulting in their death.

 

‘It is very, very sad that people lost their lives. If only we had been alerted soon after the fire was noticed, we could have saved many lives,’ Director General of Police and head of Karnataka fire and emergency services Jija Hari Singh told IANS.

 

On plans to prevent recurrence of such incidents, she said: ‘We are revisiting laws and acts to determine what can be done.’

 

Under the existing laws, the fire department cannot inspect buildings on its own. Its responsibility ends with providing NOC for occupation of the buildings after inspecting them to assess compliance with fire safety measures.

 

Asked whether the department planned an audit of all high-rise buildings in Bangalore, Jija Hari Singh, a 1975 batch Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, said: ‘We are looking at all possibilities, at what action be taken as prevention of loss of life is priority.’

 

The fire department and other civic agencies will have a tough task on hand if other high-rise office and commercial complexes have also not followed safety measures, like Carlton Towers.

 

‘It was full violation (in Carlton Towers),’ D.G. Chengappa, director of fire services, told IANS. ‘A major violation was the locking of two exits, leaving only one for people to move to safety.’

 

Over 60 people have bought space in the Carlton Towers, built in 1999.

 

A probe by the fire department after Tuesday’s fire showed that none of the fire safety measures were in place, Chengappa said.

 

The fire department has received requests from only two or three high-rise buildings to inspect them for safety measures, Chengappa said. ‘People avoid inspection by fire department.’

 

Another problem is that illegal buildings do not seek NOC from the fire department before occupation. ‘There are a number of such constructions,’ Chengappa said.

 

A BBMP official who did not want to be named said the problem were the alterations carried out after the buildings were completed.

 

‘There will be any number of instances where major alterations are carried out after getting certificate from us that the building is as per approved plan,’ the official said.

 

Only a periodical mandatory inspection of all high-rise buildings by various agencies would deter people from making drastic changes ignoring safety needs, the official suggested.

 

The government has promised to come out with a plan once it knows the full story of the Carlton Towers tragedy.

 

Hopefully, periodical checks of the safety measures in place will be the top priority as the city continues to witness brisk activity in both commercial and residential property sectors.

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