The Delhi High Court has sought to know from the AAP government the steps it has taken to fill up vacancies in the Delhi Fire Services (DFS) which, as claimed in a public interest litigation (PIL), continues to be ill-equipped and short of manpower.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Rajendra Menon issued a notice to the government on a PIL moved by the Association of the Victims of Uphaar Tragedy highlighting how the DFS is reeling under 45 percent shortage of manpower even 21 years after the Uphaar fire tragedy which claimed 59 lives.
The PIL said after the fire tragedy at Uphaar cinema hall on June 13, 1997, the Naresh Kumar committee was formed under the directions of the Lieutenant Governor, which had made certain recommendations to the Delhi Fire Services, including increased manpower, “but it seems that these recommendations have not been acted upon and they exist only on paper. Further, adding to the misery, what will be the benefit of high-end equipment if you don’t have the manpower to operate it”.
“…even after a lapse of 21 years of the tragic incident, the situation with regard to Fire Safety in Delhi has not improved at all but has further deteriorated. In 21 years the situation with regard to fire safety ought to have improved but on the contrary, it has deteriorated. The Delhi Fire Services is facing manpower crunch to an extent of 45.29% of its total prescribed strength,” said the PIL ruing how a 12-hour shift leaves the firemen exhausted and in stress.
“In 1997, when the tragic incident of Uphaar cinema took place the advanced digital technology was not available. The communication system was obsolete. And now in 2018 after the great advancement in the field of information technology, the situation has not improved much. It is really shocking to note that there is an acute shortage of manpower in the Delhi Fire Service. There is a shortfall of over 62% of the employees in the Communication Department. Unfortunately, not much has changed since then. The positions lying vacant in the Communication Department means slower dissemination of information, which will further lead to delay in responding in an emergency situation. Since time is the essence to effectively respond to any emergency situation like fire, a delay of even of a second may lead to loss of life. Thus the issue of filling up the vacant positions in DFS is of paramount importance and is in public interest,” stated the PIL filed by the association comprising families of the victims of Uphaar tragedy.
The PIL also referred to the audit conducted by the Comptroller and Auditor General in the year 2015 which, it said, exposed the preparedness of the national capital in case of any major fire.
“The CAG has found several loopholes in the functioning of Delhi Fire Service. The five-year audit of the premier fire service of the country has shown that in case of fire emergency, fire service is not only ill-equipped but also well short of staff,” it said.
It prayed for a direction to the government to fill up the vacant posts in Delhi Fire Services forthwith.
Besides, it prayed for direction for the introduction of programmes like Safe Goa 24/7—Emergency Monitoring System in Delhi.
“Safe Goa 24/7 Emergency Monitoring System was introduced in April, 2017 wherein the Electronic Hardware (Black Box) will be installed in a building and links with the Fire Force Headquarter Control Room and the Local Fire Station Watch Room of the Goa State Fire & Emergency Services. Using remote-communication technologies such as GPRS, the system monitors the building in real time, 24x7 and continually exchanges data and information regarding the operational status (Normal, Fault & Alert) of the Fire Protection Measures installed in the premises. In the event of any fire incident, a critical alarm signal is relayed from the Black Box to the Headquarter Control Room and Local Fire Station Watch Room automatically. The system also sends signal if any of the Active Fire Protection Measures is out of order. A Display Unit installed in the Headquarters Control Room and Local Fire Station Control Room are coupled with individual operating workstations which displays the Building location, Identified Problem, important contact details and the nearest Fire Station. In addition, when the Local Fire Station acknowledges the Alarm Signal in the GUI (Graphical User Interface) the Headquarters Control Room, the Zonal Control Room can also monitor the dispatch of Fire Appliance through the GPS connectivity. The Operator manning the Control Room will respond appropriately by dispatching the Fire Fighting Appliances & Equipments,” explained the PIL.
It said, “The system introduced in Goa should also be introduced in National Capital of the Country. This will provide an effective response plan by monitoring and preventing fire, to reduce and minimise loss of life and physical assets thereby making Delhi safer.”