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Supreme Court stays Gujarat govt notification relaxing building use permission and fire safety norms at hospitals

The apex court today lashed out at the Gujarat government’s notification and expressed utmost displeasure. “The Gujarat government notification goes against public health and safety. In the effort to save people in pandemic we are killing people by fire.”

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The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the Gujarat government notification for relaxing building use permission and fire safety norms at hospitals under the Town Planning Act.

The apex court lashed out at the Gujarat government’s notification and expressed utmost displeasure. “The Gujarat government notification goes against public health and safety. In the effort to save people in the pandemic, we are killing people by fire.”

The Supreme Court bench, comprising Justices D. Y. Chandrachud and M. R. Shah, while hearing the suo motu case concerning the Covid-19 treatment and dignified handling of dead bodies of the deceased, on an earlier date, had expressed concern regarding fire that broke out in the ICU of a designated Covid-19 hospital in Rajkot, Gujarat, wherein 5-6 patients died while undergoing treatment.

Thereafter, similar incidents were noted, when the apex court heard the matter, question concerning the clarification of notification dated July 8, 2021 was sought from the state government. 

The said notification under the Urban Development and Urban Housing Department purportedly in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 122 of Gujarat Town Planning and Urban Development Act, 1976, stated that no action would be taken against buildings without “Building Use Permission” till March next year. 

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The question that attracted the attention of the apex court was whether this notification would interfere with the permission with respect to fire safety norms. 

Thereafter, an affidavit was submitted by Gujarat Government, stating “This notification of July 8, 2021 does not, in any manner whatsoever, restrict the powers vested under the Fire Prevention Act, 2013, nor does it grant any extended timeline to any hospital for obtaining a Fire NOC.” 

However, the bench on last hearing expressed displeasure over the affidavit and observed that nobody can get the Building Use permission without getting the fire safety certificate for either constructing, or maintaining a building. 

Today when this matter was taken up, the bench weeded out that Building Use Permissions were equally important and said it was shocking that many hospitals had yet to obtain them.

The bench further observed that though the notification states that the defaulting entities shall immediately take corrective measures in accordance with the regulations, within a period of three months, however the same notification states that no coercive actions shall be taken by local body.

The bench expressed extreme displeasure to the said notification, observing that the power vested in state government is to facilitate efficient administration. As consequence of the notification, the state directed that the buildings, which don’t have Building Use (BU) permission or in breach of BU rules or violated height restriction, shall be exempted from General Development Control Regulation (GDCR).

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“The notification under the Town Planning Act has no nexus with services being made available in the pandemic. The health safety of citizens is not contemplated and less so in power conferred under Section 122 of the Gujarat Town Planning and Urban Development Act, 1976. The notification dated July 8, 2021 shall be held in abeyance,” noted the Court.

The aforesaid matter traversed when eight Covid-19 patients were killed in a fire in August last year at Shreya Hospital in Ahmedabad. Thereafter, in November, six people died at Rajkot’s Uday Shivanand Hospital and later in May, another 18 people died in a hospital in Bharuch, Gujarat and the Gujarat government came with the said notification (order), even after the Supreme Court ordered fire safety audits for hospitals across India, while Gujarat government moved the said notification. 

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