In the second week of February various newspapers reported that 732 hospitals and nursing homes in Mumbai were found non-compliant with fire safety norms in the audit conducted by the Bombay Municipal Corporation. Out of them in 178, which include some Public hospitals, the violations were of a very major nature. It must be noted that the audit was carried out hurriedly after the Chief Minister of Maharashtra ordered fire audit of all hospitals in Maharashtra. There is nothing to applaud in this action of the Chief Minister since it was ordered as a face saving action in the aftermath of Bhandara hospital fire incident.
In the night of Saturday 9th January, ten premature babies died in a fire that broke out in the Sick Neonatal Care Unit of the District General Hospital in Bhandara, Maharashtra. Nurses on duty rescued 7 babies from the jaws of death with the help of fire fighters and due to their heroic efforts other parts of the hospital were saved.
As usual, immediately after the ghastly incident the Chief Minister of Maharashtra rushed to the press and declared compensation for the victims’ families and also declared formation of a committee which “would find out the cause of fire”. He also declared that government would not make anybody a scapegoat but if negligence is found out then severe action would be taken. As was expected, instead of punishing the real guilty, some hospital staff have been made scapegoats.
If one looks at the following facts, it becomes clear that there is no need of constituting any committee to find out the culprits.
- Construction of this specific building started in 2011 and it was inaugurated in the presence of the then minister. But no fire audit of this facility had been done before that!
- This specific building does not have occupancy certificate till date which is supposed to be mandatory for the structure to be used!
- Not only this building, but the entire Bhandara District General hospital does not have a fire detection, preventive and extinguishing system.
- In May 2020 the District Civil surgeon had reportedly sought approval from the State government Health Department for spending just Rs.1.52 crores for installing a fire-fighting system in the hospital, but the proposal was pending for approval! After the fire it was approved in 2 weeks!
- It has been reported that the fire audit of Government hospitals and Medical colleges based in Nagpur city where between 25000 to 30000 citizens visit daily has not been conducted for quite some time.
- It has been reported that fire audits have not been conducted for most of the Public health facilities in the State.
- A search of the internet reveals that way back in 2012, a similar audit had revealed that 11 government run hospitals, 15 civic run hospitals and some top private hospitals were found to be seriously lacking in fire safety precautions, even lacking basic fire safety equipment. In 2019, Thane Municipal Corporation issued a closure notice to 15 hospitals out of 70 which were found flouting fire safety norms.
It needs to be noted that two years ago, 10 patients died and more than 150 injured in a fire in the ESIS hospital in Andheri, Mumbai. At that time also the State government had declared that it would ensure the audit of Fire safety provision in all hospitals of the state, but obviously nothing has happened.
These facts are enough to confirm that violations of Fire safety norms seem to be more of a norm than exception. This seems to be the case with both private and government health facilities. Such obvious violations are not possible without the connivance of senior most officials of the state government including various Ministers, past and present who are the real culprits. Whenever such facilities are opened up Ministers and Senior bureaucrats vie with each other to take the credit, but they are not accountable for their negligent activities! Unless they are severely punished such incidents will continue to recur.
The Corona pandemic has already brought out the pathetic state of affairs in the Public health system in the country as a whole. The unfortunate incident in Bhandara hospital once again brings out how the government refuses to spend such a paltry sum of Rs.1.52 Crore if it is required for a public service!
Unless health workers working in all these establishments carry out such audits themselves and bring out the reality in front of the public it will be impossible to ensure compliance. Only then will the various governments be pushed to take actions.
We demand that the wrongful action initiated against some staff of the Bhandara Civic Hospital must be immediately cancelled and instead of that the real guilty, the big bureaucrats and Ministers must be made to pay the price.