Fire in Surat Coaching centre
22 teenagers have died in the fire incident. Teenagers were trapped in the building as the fire destroyed the staircase. Four died after they jumped off the building in order to evade fire.
Action by authorities
Police have arrested the owner of the Surat coaching centre. Two builders of the commercial Takshashila Complex in Sarthana area are on the run. Police registered an FIR under various sections (of the Indian Penal Code) against three persons.
India’s poor fire safety record
India’s abysmal record on fire safety is reflected in the death of 17,700 people countrywide in fires in both public and residential buildings during 2015, according to the latest available data from the National Crime Records Bureau. Periodically, high-profile cases such as the Uphaar cinema blaze in Delhi that killed 59 people in 1997, and the Kumbakonam school fire in Tamil Nadu in 2004 in which 94 children perished shock the nation, but even these are not strong enough to persuade governments to make fire safety the priority it should be.
Who is to be blamed for current tragedy?
These young Indians are the latest victims of unplanned urbanisation that city governments have bred and which the courts allow to be pursued without severe penalties.
The Surat fire cannot be called an accident, since there are reports of notices having been served to the builder on the risks, but not pursued by the Fire Department. Civic officials have displayed unforgivable indifference, since two deaths occurred in another coaching centre in the city late last year.
What should be done?
The tragedy should have led to a comprehensive review of public buildings. The present inquiry into the disaster should go into any deviations from the sanctioned plan for the commercial building housing the coaching centre, and the role of urban planning officials in allowing it to come up.
Beyond suspending a few officials and filing cases against the building owners, there is a need to make an example of sanctioning and enforcement authorities. The unwavering message must be that Indians demand accountability. Mandating compulsory insurance for all public buildings against fire risk and public liability can bring about a change to the way architects and builders approach the question of safety, since the insurer would require a reduction of risk and compliance with building plans.