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Supreme Court shows disapproval to clarificatory notification submitted by Gujarat over Rajkot hospital fire

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The Supreme Court has expressed displeasure over the clarificatory notification submitted by the Gujarat government over the Rajkot hospital fire incident of 2020 that claimed lives of several Covid-19 patients.

Justice D. Y. Chandrachud and Justice M. R. Shah yesterday made these comments, while hearing a suo motu PIL on the issue of proper treatment of Covid-19 patients and dignified handling of dead bodies.

The Bench pulled up Solicitor General Tushar Mehta for not advising “the (state) government properly,” as “they have come up with a clarificatory notification saying that the fire safety requirement will not be applicable to Covid-19 premises.”

The Bench observed that nobody can get the BU permission without getting the fire safety certificate for either constructing, or maintaining a building.

The Gujarat government had recently submitted its teport regarding the fire safety precautions taken in the state after the Rajkot fire.

It said 1,101 hospitals in Gujarat do not possess any valid fire safety certificates issued under the Gujarat Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act.

In the affidavit, Additional Chief Secretary, Urban Development and Urban Housing Department, Mukesh Puri said that as of date, there are 5,705 hospitals in Gujarat, of which only 4,604 possess fire NOCs under the 2013 Act.

The NOC is issued by authorities concerned after applicant hospitals comply with fire safety measures.

Detailing the action taken, the government said authorities had issued showcause notices to over 1,500 non-compliant hospitals, disconnected the water supply of 30 hospitals and partially sealed 185 hospital premises for want of fire safety certificates.

These premises were reopened only after ensuring their due compliance, it said.

As per the affidavit, only 47 hospitals are currently treating COVID-19 patients in Gujarat, and all of them possess the requisite fire NOCs and more than 2,500 hospitals have been issued or renewed since December, 2020.

As of January 15, 2021, there were 328 dedicated COVID hospitals in Gujarat, of which 261 were found to possess valid fire NOCs. As on date, out of these 328 hospitals, 298 have valid fire NOCs. For the remaining 30 hospitals, showcause notices were issued, the state government told the apex court.

“Due to measures like mock drills and inspection of hospital premises by fire officers, nine incidents of fire were controlled and (fire) extinguished at the incipient stage, preventing loss of property and lives during the peak of second Covid-19 wave in Gujarat”.

Two of these fires were reported in Ahmedabad on May 7 and May 17, two in Surat on April 25 and May 10, two in Rajkot on May 7 and May 20, two in Jamnagar on May 14 and May 18, and one in Bhavnagar on May 12, it said.

The state government also submitted before the Supreme Court a copy of a report by the Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice DA Mehta (retired) on the fire at Shrey Hospital in Ahmedabad and Uday Shivanand Hospital in Rajkot and mentioned the steps taken by the state government, in a sealed cover, the government said.

At Shrey Hospital, eight COVID-19 patients were killed in a fire on August 6, 2020, while a similar incident at Uday Shivanand Hospital claimed lives of five Covid-19 patients on November 27 last year.

In Bharuch, 18 people, including 16 patients died in a fire that occurred at a Covid-19 hospital on May 1 this year.

Gujarat government had also clarified a notification issued by it on July 8, 2021.

The notification directed that no coercive action should be taken against the buildings having no Building Use (BU) permission till three months from December 31, 2021, which is the last date of applicability of the Gujarat Epidemic Diseases COVID-19 Regulation, 2020.

The government said this notification didn’t mean any relaxation in the issuance of a fire safety certificate and the statutory compliance with the fire safety norms under the Fire Safety Act, 2013.

The top court in the order dated June 19 had asked the Gujarat government to clarify whether its notification granting BU relaxation is in breach of the directions issued by the court.

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“While a fire safety certificate is one of the necessary prerequisites for grant of BU permission, there is no requirement of BU permission for granting the fire safety certificate.

Relaxation with regard to extension of time for obtaining BU Permission does not permit any relaxation in the requirement for issuance of fire safety certificate,” the government had stated, adding that authorities have been empowered to initiate all actions, including coercive actions, in case of non-compliance.

“This notification of 8.07.2021 does not, in any manner whatsoever, restrict the powers vested under Fire Prevention Act, 2013, nor does it grant any extended timeline, to any hospital for obtaining a Fire NOC,” the affidavit said.

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