Thursday, February 25, 2010

A building with catastrophe written all over the place

A building with catastrophe written all over the place
Muthi-ur-Rahman Siddiqui, Jagadish Angadi, Sandeep Moudgal, B'lore, Feb 24, DHNS

No smoke alarms, faulty water pumps and diesel barrels stored on the roof top. These were some of the safety violations the Fire and Emergency Services Department found during their preliminary investigation of the Carlton Towers on Wednesday.

Fire officials confirmed that people trapped in the Carlton Towers were lucky as eight barrels of diesel that was stored on the rooftop did not catch fire. Without any smoke alarms, people were clueless about what was happening and the sprinklers also failed to function.
Even if they did, the water pump generator was found to be “faulty.” There were no signages either.

The Fire Department had sent 17 vehicles to the spot on Tuesday with 105 men and officers. Karnataka Fire and Emergency Services higher-ups including its DG & IGP Jija Madhavan Hari Singh, IG & ADGP, P S Sandhu, Deputy Director (Technical), Chief Fire Officers and Range Fire Officers inspected the premises for nearly two hours.

The team collected details to ascertain the exact cause of the accident. They tried to identify if there was any breakdown of equipment in the building. All in-built equipment were not functioning when the accident occurred as none of them had used it.

Reason not clear

It is still unclear as to what caused the fire. The fire service officials believe that cable ducts on the second floor started melting before smoke spread to other floors.

As per norms, two mock drills should be conducted in such high-rise buildings once a year, but the norms were not followed at the Towers. The fire force officials would submit a detailed report of their study to the Home Department soon, said B K Hampagol, Deputy Director (Technical). Lamenting that unlike in Delhi, the fire services department in the State did not have suo motu powers to book cases against violators of fire safety norms, Sandhu underscored the need for a periodical joint audit of building norms by the police, fire services and the municipal corporation.

Multiple probes begin

Meanwhile, the Ulsoor police began a separate investigation into the mishap. A team led by ACP (Ulsoor Sub-Division) G B Manjunath was constituted.

“As per the preliminary details, the building was constructed some 15 years ago. The person who constructed the building is said to be living in Chennai. He had sold the building long ago. There are around 90 office spaces. Currently, the Carlton Towers’ Association is managing the building. One Anuraj Jain is the association chief, while Rafiqur Rehman is the Secretary,” said additional Commissioner of Police (Law & Order) M R Pujar.

The police will probe the alleged building plan violations. The team is collecting details such as building plan, approval for construction etc.

It will investigate deviations, if any, from the original plan and measures pertaining to fire safety. The team will seek expert opinion after collecting details.

No consensus

While IT & BT Minister Katta Subramanya Naidu had admitted on Tuesday night that some builders adhere to construction by-laws till they get no objection certificates (NOC) and change the plan after they become functional like Carlton Towers, Transport Minister R Ashok maintained that no such building existed in the City.

However, fire force senior officials said there were several such buildings in the City.
Union Law Minister M Veerappa Moily said many people were to be held accountable for the tragedy and strict action would be taken against them. “We can see through the naked eyes that norms and regulations were thrown to the winds. It is, no doubt, a man-made tragedy rather than a natural one," he told reporters.

Stressing on the need for better disaster management, he said he would meet the Chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority for discussing ways to avoid such incidents in the future.

Exclusivist penchant

The exclusivist penchant of the individual occupants coupled with heightened security measures in view of the looming terror threat have been blamed for locking the exits and using electricity-operated doors.

Employees of different companies hardly interacted with each other, said F R Sharieff, Regional Fire Officer (East). Companies followed strict entry rules in order to protect their privacy, he added. Owner of the restaurant on the ground floor had reportedly transgressed his limits by constructing a few more rooms and using the corridor around the joint as a store room.

"He had suppressed everyone with his muscle power. He had put up a boutique and another store in the space meant for fire passage," said a source who wished to remain anonymous.

‘Didn't ask people to jump’

Rubbishing reports that the fire personnel had asked panic-stricken employees to jump from the sixth and seventh floors, F R Sharieff claimed that it was the mob which did so.
"We don't do that. It was the onlookers who, holding blankets, had asked people to jump," he told Deccan Herald.

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