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There is a rising concern against fire safety issues in Delhi. The increasing number of incidents in the country of fire breaking out in buildings accommodating a large number of people raise an alarm for ensuring that the essential fire security equipments should be installed in buildings constructed for public use. The Delhi High court heard three PILs pertaining to fire safety issues – one, for Community halls and banquet halls; second for coaching centres; and the third for schools in Delhi.

A PIL was filed in the Delhi High Court by petitioner Arpit Bhargava against illegal community or banquet halls in the National Capital operating without a licence and without essential fire safety measures. The petitioner submitted that the Municipal Corporations have wilfully not acted against such community or banquet halls and no counter affidavits have been filed by them either. He mentioned an incident in a hotel where fire broke out due to negligence and a number of people died. He added that none of the corporations (NDMC, SDMC and EDMC) have filed any affidavits.

The municipal corporations stated in their defence that the Status Report has been filed regarding the community halls, on 10 Oct 2017.

The bench directed that owners of such community or marriage halls shall appear before the court and give a specific timeframe within which they will be able to install fire safety equipments. The court said that for those who fail to do the same, their halls must be closed down. The Court added that despite the order passed earlier, the details about the banquet hall, Baraat Ghar, community halls which are in operation without fire safety measures and without getting license have not been submitted by the Municipal corporations.

The Court ordered that the list of such halls must be submitted before the next date of hearing (14th October 2019) and also notices should be served to these marriage or community halls within the next four weeks. The court also ordered the Municipal Corporations to impose penalties and revive these marriage halls rather than closing them down.

The court further instructed the Municipal corporations to ensure that fire safety measures are followed and if the same is not complied with then the only alternative is to close down these halls.

Delhi High Court heard another PIL which pertained to fire safety issues in schools in Delhi. This Petition emerges from a Supreme Court Order in Avinash Malhotra V Union of India where the Apex Court had directed all private and Government schools to adopt structural safety and fire safety measures.

The Petitioner submitted that even after repeatedly enquiring about private schools, the state government failed to provide any information.  He said that private schools refused to provide any information because they are not under the purview of the Right to Information Act. He further added that despite the specific direction given by the Supreme Court, none of these schools have complied with the order. He cited an incident in Haryana where fire broke out in a school and a large number of students died.

Delhi Government Counsel Gautam Naryan said in defence that the government has filed affidavits in relation to fire security measures for the Government Schools in Delhi but not private schools. He added that PWD has filed the affidavit regarding the structural safety and about 26 government schools did not get the fire safety clearance. He submitted that 108 Government aided schools have been given No Objection Certificate (NOC) by the fire department and 105 have applied.  When enquired by the court about the Government schools that have been closed down because of lack of proper fire security, he replied that it is under the jurisdiction of the Municipal Corporations.

In another case, the Delhi High court had already heard a PIL for lack of fire security in coaching centres. The bench enquired if the state government can install fire security equipments in Private schools and coaching centres and recover the cost later. The court directed the state government to start issuing notices to such schools that do not have fire security measures and prepare a record of the notices sent and the action taken against them. The Court said that government schools have no fire safety measures and same is the case with the private schools but no action has been taken by the Delhi Government. Delhi Government Counsel wanted more time to take instructions to file a report with regard to the government schools, non-government schools and government aided schools.

The court decided to club all the three matters relating to structural safety and fire security in Community halls, schools and coaching centres for the next hearing on 14th October 2019.

-India Legal Bureau

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