Fire Safety Regulations for Public Buildings in India

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    In Context

    Over the past few weeks, there have been deadly fires in hospital buildings, including those treating COVID-19 patients.

    Key Points 

    • Fires breaking out in buildings, big and small across India is not a new phenomenon. 
    • The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) says 330 people died in commercial building fires in 2019, while fatalities for residential or dwelling buildings were much higher at 6,329.

     Major Causes Of Fires 

    • Electrical faults are cited as the leading cause of fires but State governments are widely criticised for being lax with building safety laws and for failing to equip public buildings with modern technology.
    • Hospital ICUs (intensive care units) are a great fire risk because they are oxygen-suffused, and need to meet high standards.

    Fire Safety Regulations In India 

    Constitutional Provisions

    • Fire service is a state subject and has been included as a municipal function in the XII schedule of the Constitution.
    • The municipal corporations and local bodies are responsible for providing fire services in many states.

    National Building Code of India, 2016

    • At the centre of all standard-setting is the National Building Code of India, 2016
    •  Part 4 of the Code deals with Fire and Life Safety. 
      •  It recommends the location of buildings by type of use in specific zones to ensure that industrial and hazardous structures do not coexist with residential, institutional, office and business buildings. 
      • The code broadly covers the following areas:
    • Fire prevention:  This covers aspects of fire prevention pertaining to the design and construction of buildings.
      • It provides specifications and guidelines for design and materials that reduce the threat of destructive fires
    • Life Safety:  This covers life safety provisions in the event of a fire and similar emergencies, also addressing construction and occupancy features that are necessary to minimise danger to life from fire, smoke, fumes or panic. 
    • Fire Protection: Covers significant appurtenances (accessories) and their related components and guidelines for selecting the correct type of equipment and installations meant for fire protection of the building, depending upon the classifications and type of building.

     State Governments Laws and Regulations

    • Maharashtra, which has been hit by a series of fires, has a Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act since 2008. Section 3 of the Act makes the provisions of the NBC mandatory and Schedule I of the State’s law is borrowed from the Code.
    • In Kerala, obtaining a NOC [no-objection certificate] from the fire department  for hospitals that are between 15 metres and 24 metres high, requires furnishing exhaustive information on design and infrastructure.
      • The rules prescribe firefighting equipment and installations that meet “Indian Standards”, but do not contain a direct reference to the NBC.
    • Tamil Nadu’s form for a fire licence, required under the Fire Service Act read with municipal law, is even broader, and no reference is found for compliance with the NBC Code.

    Guidelines by National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)

    • NDMA has also stipulated requirements for fire safety in public buildings, including hospitals, which incorporate elements of the NBC, besides desin guidelines on maintaining minimum open safety space, protected exit mechanisms, dedicated staircases, and crucial drills to carry out evacuations.

    Model Building Bye-Laws, 2016

    • The Ministry of Urban Development has devised a circular called “Model Building By-Laws 2016” which states the regulatory mechanism and engineering parameters to keep in mind before starting any construction project in India.

    Concerns

    • Negligence of rules and regulation:Fire incidents are common across India due to the country’s poor record for workplace safety standards and negligence in the enforcement of building regulations
      • The dense residential development, entangled wires and lack of implementation of fire safety norms are a few reasons for fire hazard related devastation in the country. 
    • Lack of Knowledge: There are many offices/high rise buildings/mandir and religious places having fire fighting equipments installed but hardly any person has the knowledge of using them
    • Lack of maintenance: It makes the equipment dysfunctional. 
    • Lack of unified fire services: Unified fire services provide all the necessary guidelines and instruction in fire fighting but it lacks in most of the states 
    • Lack of funding: Adequate funding is not available, which inhibits technological progression for fire fighting.

    Way Forward

    • In December 2020, the Supreme Court directed all States to carry out fire safety audits of dedicated COVID-19 hospitals. 
      • Fire Safety Audit (FSA) is found to be an effective tool to assess fire safety standards of an organisation or an occupancy. Therefore, once in a year a fire safety audit (FSA) by independent agencies should be made mandatory all over India.
    • It has become evident that State forces lack the manpower to inspect and ensure compliance with safety codes, including the NBC, where it is mandatory.
      • One option is to make heavy fire liability insurance compulsory for all public buildings, which would offer protection to occupants and visitors and bring about the external inspection of safety.
    • We should have guidelines/framework to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment for our cities. 
    • The government should continue to provide financial support and assistance in augmenting and modernising the fire departments
    • Building awareness among citizens about fire prevention and protection measures is also of paramount importance. 

    About National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB)

    • It was set-up in 1986 to function as a repository of information on crime and criminals.
    • It was established on the recommendations of the Tandon Committee to the National Police Commission (1977-1981) and the MHA’s Taskforce (1985).
    • NCRB was entrusted with the responsibility for monitoring, coordinating and implementing the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network & Systems (CCTNS) project in the year 2009.
    • This project connects 15000+ police stations and 6000 higher offices of police in the country.
    • In August 2017, NCRB launched the National Digital Police Portal, which allows search for a criminal/suspect on the CCTNS database.
    • The Bureau has also been entrusted to maintain the National Database of Sexual Offenders (NDSO) and share it with the States/UTs on a regular basis.
    • NCRB has also been designated as the Central Nodal Agency to manage technical and operational functions of the ‘Online Cyber-Crime Reporting Portal.

    Source: TH