Citizens' helped change fire safety laws

Life 365    05-Apr-2020
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SINCE THE DREADFUL Carlton Towers fire that took 9 lives, Beyond Carlton has been working with experts and the government to ensure fire safety in the state of Karnataka.
 
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Ten years ago, tragedy struck the city of Bengaluru when a fi re broke out in Carlton Towers on Old Airport Road on February 23, 2010. Nine people were killed and many more lives were impacted. Horrific visuals of the incident were shared on social media — employees working in the towers suffocating to death and some even jumping out of the windows to save their lives. However, from the tragedy, came hope.
 
 Uday Vijayan, who lost his 23-year-old son in the incident, decided to reach out to others affected and thus, Beyond Carlton, a first of a kind initiative to ensure fire safety in Bengaluru, was born. The first thing on their agenda was to make sure such an incident never happens again. “It was a shocking incident when I went to the fire department and saw that there were gaping holes within the fire department structure itself. Officials weren't empowered enough to go into buildings and inspect. And that sounded a little odd to me, because if they can't come and check, whether the building is fi safe, who else can, nobody else is technically qualified,” Uday Carlton, Managing Trustee and President of Beyond Carlton, tells.
 
The group approached the Karnataka High Court in 2010 seeking stringent fire safety measures for all high rise buildings across Karnataka. Beyond Carlton’s Public Interest Litigation (PIL) showed how buildings needed a no-objection certificate before it was built, and after that, no checks were done officially. Sumit Khanna, a fire expert and a member of the Executive Council of Beyond Carlton explained that this was dangerous since buildings go through a lot of wear and tear over time and those changes would never get factored in when the NOC was obtained.
 
Beyond Carlton had its first big victory in 2011 when the Karnataka High Court directed the state government to issue a notification to ensure that fire safety fitness tests are conducted on high rise buildings, 15 metres and above, every two years. However, the group wanted to go beyond this. Beyond Carlton then began work on a blueprint for all buildings, new and old, in Bengaluru.
 
After months of consultations with the fire department as well as experts, Beyond Carlton released a five-year blueprint to ensure fire safety in Bengaluru. With the government too welcoming their initiatives, Beyond Carlton has managed to change the way fi re safety is seen in the state of Karnataka. However, for the nine families who lost their loved ones, justice has been elusive.
 
The lengthy judicial process, too, has disappointed the victims. Added to this, is the fact that such investigations also need an expert view and most public prosecutors, who usually represent the victims in such cases, cannot devote time to a single case. However, despite it all, members of Beyond Carlton say their fight for a fire-proof Karnataka will continue.