Kamala Mills fire: BMC adopts Narendra Modi's diktat on self-regulation to up accountability; says failure will mean criminal charges
Everybody who failed to notice there were safety violations in Mumbai's Kamala Mills fire case would be pulled up, the civic body said, and urged the government to amend the laws to make failure or refusal of self-attestation an illegal offence
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has submitted its report following its investigation into the fire at Lower Parel's Kamala Mills compound on 29 December, in which 14 persons were killed, and has held the owners of the restaurants, owners of the premises, and architects and interior decorators who were all involved in the project, responsible. Everybody who failed to notice there were safety violations would be pulled up, the civic body said, and urged the government to amend the laws to make failure or refusal of self-attestation an illegal offence.
The move follows Prime Minister Narendra Modi's diktat from 2014 which directed all government and private bodies to self-regulate in the larger interests of accountability.
Municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta said a copy of the report has been presented to Mayor Vishwanath Mahadeshwar, police commissioner Dattatray Padsalgikar. The report has also been made public. He said the state government and police can take action accordingly.
The report recommended criminal action be initiated against owners of both restaurants that were gutted in the fire — Mojo's Bistro and 1Above — as also against owner of the premises and concerned architects and interior decorators.
A preliminary report by the Mumbai fire brigade had earlier suggested that flying embers from hookah at Mojo's Bistro may have started the fire. "The cause of fire was flying embers from the hookah being illegally served at Mojo's Bistro restaurant which had partially unauthorisedly covered their terrace and used combustible material for the construction of the same," Mehta's report said.
The "very flammable material" used to cover the terrace of 1Above pub then caught fire immediately from its common wall with Mojo's Bistro, and spread rapidly, it said. Its terrace too had been covered without permission, the report said.
The owner of the premises who gave permission for unauthorised use of terrace areas to these two restaurants was equally responsible for the fire and deaths, the report said. "It is therefore proposed to initiate criminal action against owner of the premises, owners of the restaurants, the architect and the interior decorator who carried out... these unauthorised works and illegal activities," the report said.
Here's a full copy of the report:
Outlined in Section 7.2.1 of the report is the proposed amendment to the MMC Act. Stringent punishments like "heavy penalties for running businesses without licence, and for violations in licenced premises", will be given to offenders.
Interestingly, the report mentions the law should be amended to "incentivise honest self-declaration" and punish "dishonest compliance". "This would ensure that entities who want to conduct honest businesses by ensuring compliances aren't harassed, and on the other hand, those who violate are suitably penalised," the report mentioned. "The core philosophy of ease of doing business is to encourage those who intend doing a regulatory compliant business," the report said.
It also calls for a need to enable the monitoring mechanism using upgraded IT softwares. "There is a need to develop a software calling for compulsory online submission of self-declaration by licensee that fire safety equipment and machinery is in working condition," the report further added.
The owners' responsibility will end not only at self-regulation and ensuring the commercial establishments meet with all required safety norms, but also in seeing to it that there are trained fire safety officers among the employees of these establishments. "His name and contact details must be submitted to the office of the chief fire officer. He should have a designated uniform easily identifiable by the citizens," it said.
It goes still further in putting the onus of ensuring fire safety on owners of commercial and residential establishments. "They must appoint compliance officers, who will be well aware of exit passages to guide people out during a crisis and shall also act as the first responder," it said.
Developing trend since Narendra Modi took charge at Centre
The Mumbai civic body pinning the blame on the owners of the commercial establishments, and urging others in the city to self-regulate is a trend being followed since 2014, when Narendra Modi took charge as the Prime Minister of India.
In August 2014, three months after assuming office, Modi asked all government departments to allow self-attestation of documents and to reduce the use of affidavits. The move was not only meant to bridge the governance deficit in the country, but would also go some way towards reforming the entire public service delivery system, as reported by India Today back in 2014.
Jitendra Singh, a Minister of State with the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), had said the move was envisaged as being part of a bigger symbolic message — that the Modi government had the capacity to trust the youth of this country.
Modi had also felt self-regulation would reduce the dependence on one regulatory authority and act as a system of checks and balances, reported The Quint in November last year. Emphasising that the balance between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary has been the backbone of the Constitution, Modi also pitched for self-regulation and a system of checks and balances for the good health of any institution and quoted BR Ambedkar to state that there should be a limit for any authority.
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