Friday, September 29, 2023

Allahabad HC takes suo motu cognizance of fire at Levana Suites Hotel, seeks reports from LDA, Fire chief

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The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court took suo motu cognizance of the fire at Levana Suites Hotel in Lucknow and directed to file it as a PIL.

The Division Bench of Justice Rakesh Srivastava and Justice Brij Raj Singh said that, it is with utmost grief and shock that the court is being forced to take suo motu cognizance of certain unfortunate events which have taken place in Lucknow, over the course of the last few days.

Through various digital news platforms and the print media, it has came to Court notice that on the morning of 05.09.2022, a major fire engulfed a well-known hotel by the name of Levana Suites, situated in a posh locality of Lucknow. After several hours of persistent efforts of the rescue teams, the fire in the hotel was doused. The bench said it is pained to note four lives were lost in the said incident, and many more are in a critical state.

The Court noted,

In a news report, it has been reported that the hotel in question did not even have an approved map, and the hotel was being operated on the basis of a residential map.

It has been further reported that the hotel was operating in blatant violation of several fire safety rules, with outdated and inadequate fire safety equipment. On a perusal of the said news report, it has also come to light that the Levana Suites hotel has now been sealed, and orders for demolition of the hotel have also been passed for flouting several rules and regulations.

The Court was also surprised to note that the hotel actually had a valid fire NOC at the time when this unfortunate incident took place.

The flames of the fire at the Levana Suites Hotel had not even completely cooled off when it came to court knowledge that another fire broke out in a coaching centre on 06.09.2022. A coaching centre by the name of Gravity Classes, operating from a building on the crowded Shah Najaf Road in Hazratganj witnessed two fire incidents within a space of a few hours.

From the above reports, the Court observed that several hotels, coaching centres, hospitals and commercial establishments are operating across the city without valid sanctioned maps and fire safety measures, with total impunity. The infractions are so obvious that the same are visible to one and all. This is a very serious state of affairs, with very wide public health and safety ramifications. The saddest part is that the loss of life and property was totally avoidable in nature, by mere adherence to the rules and regulations in place by the establishments, and its stricter implementation by the concerned authorities. It is deeply concerning to note that thousands of residential and commercial establishments are allowed to flout the building and fire safety rules by the relevant authorities, and it is only when a major tragedy such as the incident of fire at the Levana Suites Hotel takes place that these authorities wake up from their slumber and start taking proactive steps to seal and demolish such buildings. It is difficult to believe that these wrongdoers are allowed to construct their buildings and run their establishments without the knowledge and connivance of the concerned authorities.

The Court further noted that the Apex Court has repeatedly held that unauthorized constructions should be demolished, irrespective of the financial burden imposed upon the wrongdoers. The stance of the Apex Court has also been that there is an urgent need to bring to book not only the builders flouting the norms, but also the officers who are involved in the raising of such illegal constructions.

The Court said,

Thus, there is an exigent demand to ensure that such incidents do not occur in the future. Even though various probes and inspections have been ordered by the State Government after the unfortunate fire at Levana Suites, and the Lucknow Development Authority and other State bodies are seen to be embarking upon sealing and demolition drives, it is often observed that such probes and drives end up losing steam as soon as such tragic incidents die down in the public memory. The public, as well as the authorities, seem to always forget that prevention is better than cure.

In an attempt to regulate and prevent such incidents in the future, and to ensure that we end up taking permanent lessons from this incident, we are taking suo motu cognizance of various digital and print reports relating to the incident of fire at the Levana Suites Hotel, Madan Mohan Malviya Marg, Lucknow on the morning of 05.09.2022, along with the reports regarding the fire breakout at a coaching centre on Shah Najaf Road, Lucknow in the afternoon of 06.09.2022.

The Court directed the Vice-Chairman of the Lucknow Development Authority to be present before the Court on the next date of listing. He is further directed to file an affidavit detailing the number of establishments which are operating without proper building and fire permits in the city of Lucknow. It is specifically required to be brought on record as to how many commercial establishments are doing business without even a commercial map approval in their favour. He is also required to ascertain the cases in which such permits should not actually have been issued, and have been illegally obtained. Through the same affidavit, it may also be brought on record as to the steps being taken to curb this menace. In his affidavit he shall specifically states as to whether construction activities are being carried out as per approved land use; whether the map is sanctioned in accordance with the rules/ regulation governing the field; whether construction has been raised in accordance with the sanctioned map; whether set off and open space has been left as per the rules and regulations and there is no unauthorised constructions; whether there is sufficient parking space in commercial complex; whether building completion certificate has been given by the Development Authority; whether the buildings in which commercial activity is being carried out have enough space for the movement of ambulance and fire brigade. The Vice Chairman shall also bring on record the action taken, if any, by the authority against the officials found guilty in such cases.

The Court directed the Chief Fire Officer to file his affidavit bringing on record the number of buildings, hospitals and commercial establishments which are operating without valid fire exits and equipment. It is also required that the affidavit clearly mention the number of NOCs which were found to have been wrongly given, in spite of the absence of proper adherence to the fire safety norms. He shall specifically state as to whether the NOC has been given as per sanctioned map.

The Court hereby directed the Public Interest Litigation Cell of the Court to register a suo motu Public Interest Litigation. The Senior Registrar of the Court at Lucknow is directed to place the same before the appropriate Bench. The PIL may be titled “In Re : Incidents of Fire at Levana Suites Hotel”.

The Bench further directed the Senior Registrar of this Court at Lucknow to obtain the addresses of The Times of India, The Indian Express, Hindustan Times, Amar Ujala, India TV, AajTak, NDTV and TV Today and Times Now from the Director, Information, UP, Lucknow and communicate this order to them with the request to produce relevant material and content, on the basis of which they have reported the matter in the newspapers and the electronic media about the aforesaid incident, in a Compact Disc or Pen Drive, for the assistance of the Court.

The Court has fixed the next hearing of the petition on September 22, 2022.

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