A new occupational safety code required to avert tragedies

By Kushal Jeena. Dated: 12/13/2019 11:01:05 PM

The governments across the country are urgently required to put in place a new and comprehensive occupational safety code that allows ban on the running of illegal commercial businesses in residential zones and put an end to the practice of regularisation of illegalities to avert fatal tragedies.
The recent incident of fire that engulfed a commercial building in central Delhi that killed 43 migrant workers has once again established that rules regarding workers safety are bad and lax enforcement is not at all in the interest of the people because it costs lives and hurt economy.
In the aftermath of recent fire incident, a blame game was kicked off among the political parties in the national capital with opposition Congress and the BJP putting blame on the Arvind Kejriwal led Aam Aadmi Party for the incident accusing his government of failure in delivering on the public safety front. However, the chief minister put the onus back on central government citing lack of complete authority and obstruction by the centre as reasons for not allowing his government to deliver on a broader development agenda.
Notwithstanding the wrangling among political parties, the fact remains that safety of people cannot be allowed to fall victim to the irresponsible behaviour of political class. What is required for political parties, governments and civil society to ponder upon and formulate a new plan to make older, built up areas safe and stop chaotic urban development that has led to illegal commercialisation of business activities in the areas that are hardly described as safe to live in.
The massive fire in an industrial unit in Delhi has raised a set of disturbing questions. The national capital has witnessed several incidents of massive fires in the industrial units that are run in the residential areas. But each time, a predictable script plays out. There is a subsequent blame game between different agencies, and the state and the Central government, given the unique power sharing arrangement between the two. The inquiry that is order after every such incident hardly yielded results and it is business as usual, till the next tragedy strikes.
Poor and helpless migrant workers, cramped in a small space, after a week of rigorous work, suddenly found themselves choking to death in Delhi's incident of blaze at Delhi's Anaj mandi. Their final calls to family members exposed their vulnerability, and the grief that struck the families. The tragedy reflects the crisis and failure of urban governance. The factory unit was illegal since it was operating in an area where shops only were allowed on the ground floor.
The Municipal Corporation of Delhi knew of its existence, and had even inspected it last week, but it did not seal the unit. The unit also did not have a clearance from the Delhi Fire Service.?The Central government has blamed Delhi government for allowing it to operate without a fire clearance and blamed it for delaying area redevelopment plans, while the Delhi government has asked why the MCD did not take action when it could. The fact that the Delhi assembly elections are approaching makes the politics around the tragedy even more competitive.
In case both the governments at the centre and Delhi are serious about preventing reoccurrence of such incidents it is imperative on their parts to go back to the drawing board and address the core of the problem which is nothing but the multiplicity of agencies. It is high time to have a single regulatory and licensing authority that must be mandated with the power to assess proposals, give licences to legal entities, enforce compliance with all regulations, and crack down when any unit is found to be in violation of rules or safety norms.
The National Human Rights Commission while taking suo moto cognizance of the tragedy has sought a detailed report from the concerned authorities along with action taken against the errant officials.
The unregulated manufacturing units have mushroomed in several lower-middle class residential areas, unauthorised colonies and slum clusters of Delhi in the post-economic liberalisation era. Anaj Mandi is a glaring example of the liberalised economy's underbelly. Once a flourishing wholesale grain market, its traders have now moved to bigger markets. In the mandi's serpentine lanes, units producing school bags, garments and toy factories and printing units exist along with residential houses. These are ready for another crisis.
The successive governments in the capital have, at times, tried to move some of these unregulated units to new industrial hubs such on the outskirts of the city. But these plans have not succeeded because the owners and workers of these factories found relocation uneconomical. The government should attempt a more creative solution that enables safer working conditions without stifling entrepreneurship.
"The fire fighters initially struggled to douse the flames because narrow lanes blocked access to the building. This is the second biggest fire in Delhi's history. The factory was operating in a residential area and there were no fire safety provisions. The most of the deceased were migrant workers from Bihar who lived in the factory, which manufactured school bags and purses. At the time of the incident, workers were sleeping inside the building that was locked from inside. The factory had no fire safety provisions. Most of the deceased were migrant workers from Bihar who lived in the factory, which manufactured school bags and purses," said Atul Garg, the head of Delhi fire service.
The Delhi government ordered a probe into the fire and sought a detailed report within seven days. "I have ordered a magisterial enquiry into it. Compensation of Rs 10 lakh each to be given to families of those dead and Rs 1 lakh each to those injured. The expense of medical treatment of those injured will be borne by the government," chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said.
"The fire in Delhi's Anaj Mandi is extremely horrific. My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones. Wishing the injured a quick recovery. Authorities are providing all possible assistance at the site of the tragedy, "Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on the incident.
"At 5.00 AM, I heard screams from the nearby building. I rushed to the terrace and found that a fire broke out on the third and second floor of the building. Six to seven men were standing near the windows, begging to be saved. As the window cannot be opened, they were trapped inside. A few minutes later, when I returned with locals, only four of them were standing near the window pleading for rescue. After half an hour, we arranged a staircase and a cutter to cut the grilled window. As the gap between both the buildings was a lot, we could help them. By that time, firemen reached the spot and rescued two persons alive from the window panel," said Mohammed Rashid, a resident of the area. Another neighbour Rupesh Kumar who witness to the incident said, "All the screams are echoing in my ear. It was very painful to witness such a horrifying incident."
—[IFS]

 

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