Connaught Place, New Delhi fire safety a burning issue

The recent fire in Delhi’s Connaught Place (CP) is the third incident in less than a year. It has once again raised questions about safety of the recently re-developed market. Despite the low height of buildings and existence of wide roads and a fire safety plan, the market is unsafe. Fire safety approvals are not given to buildings but to individual commercial units operating from within them.

Fire officials have said most buildings don’t have alternative entry points and there are no fire exits. With more and more restaurants and shops opening, traders say there is a need to step up fire safety in CP. Over 40 new restaurants have come up in the market in the past few years. This has increased the load on buildings. The rooftop has generators, AC units, water tanks, etc. But no fire exits have been created.

Moreover, not all shops have a no-objection certificate from the Delhi Fire Services. Most restaurants—with sitting space for less than 50 and building height below 15 metres—don’t require it. “NOC is given to shops and not the entire complex. For an office complex, there is no need for approval,” said a fire official.

It’s not just CP. New Delhi Municipal Council officials are also worried about high-rises in the vicinity. Many don’t have adequate equipment. Fire officials say clearances are issued upon checking construction plans, but once complete, owners make alterations. “Whenever we detect anomalies, notices are issued and a 90-day time frame is given to make necessary changes,” A K Sharma, Director, DFS, said.

NDMC officials, however, say little can be done to construct an alternative exit in some buildings. “Unlike Khan Market, we can’t construct a continuous path on the front side, for example, as it’s a heritage market,” an official said.  “Hawkers have encroached on corridors. Firefighting equipment supposed to have been installed outside each block is missing and wires used for connecting focus lights on the facade are loose. The civic agency should immediately relocate hawkers,” Atul Bhargava, President of New Delhi Traders Association, said.

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