AMRI Hospital in Kolkatta is burning. But are we safe?

They say ignorance is bliss. But you cannot live in the state of permanent bliss. You have to come out, and face your daily life. And there, ignorance can become a life hazard. And blind faith about knowledge, intention, efficiency and integrity of people in authority is just a more complicated and dangerous form of trying to live in ignorant bliss. We, as society, can turn a blind eye on those you have appointed to keep you safe. But then, we cannot avoid the consequences. As the people of Kolkata have discovered yet again. And still we, as a society, are so much ostrich-like, that we like to think that, now that a tragedy has taken place (and personally I am safe, with all my family and friends), the authorities in my town will wake up and do all that is necessary to keep me safe.

WRONG. They will do lip service, and may be give speeches, and sanction a handsome budget to ‘beaf up’ the safety apparatus. But that will not make us safe. They will make more stringent norms and rules. But even these will not make us safe. They may even find out a loophole and two in present system, and deal drastically with it. But even then it will be a mistake to feel safe. And all this, not because the authorities want to put you in risk. But the administration, by human nature, tends to take the path of least resistance. And presently, the path is to ‘adjust’, to ‘ignore’, to ‘be practical’, and all.

In a few days, the fire exits of a building will be blocked by old furniture. The side margins of industrial units, even handling hazardous equipment, will be rented out and hence blocked. The fire extinguisher will not be replenished / replaced when its useful life is over. The fire brigade will face budget constraint to buy spare parts for maintenance, and so on and so forth. Until disaster strikes again.

So what can a single person do? Actually, a single person can do a lot if he is equipped with right tools and training. And confidence.

But we are not sure if we have these. So, let us assume we can do a very little impact. But why not do it? At least, if we face another disaster, we can have the satisfaction that we have done whatever was within our power to avert that.

Let me suggest that we focus on the tragedy that is still fresh in our mind. By now, we know that the hospital might have stored diesel and other inflammable material in the parking area. And that the fire department had no idea where the oxygen cylinders were stored. And where various staircases were headed. So they had to make a lot of effort just to get where they were needed. And te hospital people hae confidently told us that they had all the necessary licenses and clearances from fire department. Which was, of course, issued after due care and after physical inspection by correct authority.

In all our towns, we have such hospitals. Even a casual walk around them will show us the risks we face in case of a fire or similar disaster. We must understand that, in a hospital, at any time there will be a lot of people who cannot move on their own, and who may require stretchers or at least wheel chairs. And even in our towns, the fire department is there to inspect and certify if a building is safe or not.

So let us check how they are doing this job. Let us make an application under the Right to Information Act, to find out what the fire departments are doing or not doing. The format is given below. Can I request all of you to take the effort to print the same, put your name and address, paste a court fee stamp of Rs. 10, and submit the same at Fire department of your town? If you can not locate the fire department, try the fire brigade HQ. . And if you get some reply, can you do me a favour by sending me a copy or by publishing the same on net? So that we will know how much prepared we are for an exactly similar tragedy in our town.



5 thoughts on “AMRI Hospital in Kolkatta is burning. But are we safe?

  1. Tejas Inamdar December 15, 2011 / 9:50 am

    Even through your blog you are using your BESTEST Weapon…RTI. And the wise thing you are doing is ..You are motivating others to use it.

    • अतूल पाटणकर December 15, 2011 / 10:57 am

      Thanks Tejas. Its really satisfying to know that people read your writing seriously and take it seriously, too.

  2. Mahesh Limaye December 11, 2011 / 10:41 pm

    Can we suggest Govt. to first define safety requirements of buildings with respect to nature of activities within it. Then open separate cell for monitoring compliance and giving them grades. Periodic monitoring to ensure continual improvement of grade

    • अतूल पाटणकर December 12, 2011 / 10:30 am

      I believe such norms are already in place. there are seperate norms for residential buildings, commercial, industrial, hospital, theatre, places where hazardous material is stored, and all. Quite probably, if taken seriously, they might be good. The problem is that the certificates can be obtained without actually completing the norms. And the periodic review does’t take place due to lack of manpower, etc.

      The RTI application intends to bring this information on record and in public domain.

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