The greater tragedy is that we wake up to the need for safety only after a new catastrophe has occurred.
The tragedy of India’s cities lies not only in disastrous fires that kill people in cloistered spaces. The greater tragedy is that we wake up to the need for safety only after a new catastrophe has occurred. Closed fire escapes, crowded passages, hazardous building material like wood, risky terrace extensions and lack of fire-fighting equipment are common hazards. Add a two-hour late emergency call and the extent of what the blaze at Arpit Palace Hotel in NewDelhi’s Karol Bagh turned into becomes clear. The hotel may have ticked all the boxes in fire safety protocols, but that was three years ago. The carelessness with which electricity is used in India means every building is a potential tragedy in the making. The fire that killed 17 sleeping hotel guests seems to have begun in the shaft that brings in a bunch of electricity cables.
This is the biggest fire tragedy in Delhi since the 1997 Uphaar blaze that killed 59. The larger issue is how our big cities can never escape from the clutches of the politician-official-builder-contractor nexus. The delays in building flats, hotels, hospitals and cinema halls is because promoters await permits, planning permission, permits, etc. which lead to huge cost overruns. Speed money is invariably paid at virtually proforma rates down the line, so projects may be speeded up and cost overruns controlled. To compensate, the builders takes various shortcuts that get exposed only when a major disaster happens and lives are lost. Fire hazards are a global phenomenon, but India, by and large, spends the least on safety and maintenance, which is why lives are lost in fires in much larger numbers. You can blame this on the evils engendered by the canker of corruption.