As we witness the horror in Uttarakhand we all will like to understand what we learnt from this great tragedy or whether at all we have learnt anything from it? A week after the tragedy exactly how many people died in the catastrophe is still a puzzle; from a figure of 882 to 10000 anything is possible. Isn’t it’s a farce or probably it’s more than that.

How many people went into the state of Uttarakhand, how many were out there in the holy city of Kedarnath , how many more have been perished and forgotten forever in the nearby areas where silt thick by several meters have taken everything inside it and no one ever will come to know what happened in those remote areas. Yes it’s sad but true that in 21st century our govt’s don’t have any such databases or mechanism to keep that information.

But now the question which comes before us is whether this could have been averted or whether it could have been dealt in a better manner, the answer to both these questions is a big YES and it has been discussed in detail in various blogs and news across the country as how Uttarakhand govt. kept all rules aside to pursue a path of ecological disaster.

From small disasters of local nature like we saw in Uphaar fire accident or many similar accidents where no preparations were there to prevent a fire accident to what we saw in Uttarakhand we seems to be ruled by governments which seems to be working hard not to learn from mistakes.

 

TIRUPATI

Coming down to my own state of Andhra Pradesh to the temple town of Tirupati the scenario is not much different. What happened in Kedarnath may happen in our own holy town of Tirupati. The disaster here may not be so much as from rains but what if a major fire breaks in the temple town. How well prepared is the town for such an eventuality?

A peep into the audit report (CAG Report AP year ended March 2012) for the temple down preparedness on the fire safety leaves you down with horror.

 

 “The temple town of Tirupati (a pilgrim centre) has a population of 6 lakh and a floating population of about one lakh per day. Heavy congestion in public places like bus terminals and railway stations, etc. and the increasing number of multi-storeyed hotels pose the risk of fire accidents.

However, there was only one fire station at Tirupati covering urban, rural and four surrounding mandals, as against the requirement of 12 fire stations as per SFAC norms. Government replied (November 2012) that the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) was requested (September 2012) for funding the establishment of five new fire stations at Tirupati and Tirumala.”

 Yes you read it right “ONE” fire station at Tirupati. I am sure the situation of other temple towns in the country will not be very different.

 

Major Metros in India – Hyderabad

What about the situation of major cities in the country? Again the picture is grim, in words of the audit report (CAG Report AP year ended March 2012).

“For effective functioning of the Department, it is imperative to have a comprehensive database containing the details relating to area-wise distribution of population, service area villages and houses with category of premises (like hazardous/non-hazardous), fire stations and their location, geographical mapping of distances between places, short/traffic free routes, etc. within the jurisdiction of a fire station along with the water sources in the vicinity. Audit scrutiny revealed that such a database was not maintained by the DFOs in any of the sampled districts. Further, the Department had not developed any Standard Operating Procedures for combating fire in high rise buildings, earthquakes and other natural disasters.”

 
How on earth will they manage a disaster if it happens if they do not have these details? And till now we are just discussing fire and rains. It sends chill down my spine when I think about a major catastrophe like a nuclear or a biological disaster and how will we deal with it if we can’t even do a proper fire fighting.

 

Situation across State – AP

By now you must have accepted the fate; the situation is as grim across state. As per CAG report SFAC (Standing Fire Advisory Council) recommended a scale of one fire station for 10 sq km radius for towns and one for 50 sq km radius in rural/open areas. As per this norm, the requirement of fire stations in Andhra Pradesh would work out to 5,502.

 However the audit (CAG Report AP year ended March 2012) reveals the following

There were only 253 fire stations (shortfall: 95 per cent) in the State to cover an area of 2.75 lakh sq km10. While the Government issued administrative sanction for six new fire stations (including one in AP Legislative Assembly) in May 2011, as of November 2012, these have not been set up due to non-provision of funds non-allotment of land.

  • Not a single fire station was set up during the period 2007-12.
  • Each fire station covers 16 to 144 sq km in urban areas against the norm of 10 sq km, and 144 to 1,480 sq km in rural areas against the norm of 50 sq km.
  • One fire station covers 3 lakh population on an average as against 50,000 population as per the SFAC norms.
  • 875 Mandals (out of 1, 12811) and 89 (out of 294) Assembly constituencies did not have a fire station as of November 2012.
  • The situation of hospitals, malls and other places of public gathering have the same kind of scary figures

 

Whom to blame

The govt has to be blamed for obvious reasons, from poor urban/rural planning to lack of funds, lack of will power, lack of coordination to insensitive and indifferent attitude of the government is clearly visible in all the facts laid before. But the blame does not end with the government we as general public also has little respect and understanding for a culture of disaster planning.

From my own experience of working in a Hi-Tech industry some of the big names in the industry hardly have any kind of fire fighting or disaster management plan. The place for the admin in these companies is filled with mediocre talent, people who have little understanding or appreciation for such a preparedness.

Fire drills are conducted to fulfil legal obligations instead of actually preparing people for such a disaster, people walking of the normal routes instead of talking the emergency route are just some of the example of how seriously drills are taken. Most high rise building will have vehicles parked around the premises of building which will obstruct any kind of fire tender machine to work effectively in case of a fire event.

In a country where we jump lanes and drive in the opposite direction in a one way road I wonder what exactly we try to save, few ml of petrol or couple of minutes and at what cost? But here also can’t the govt do anything, when it can spend millions of tax payer amount to publish advertisements on their party leaders’ birth, death and congratulation messages, the govt could definitely spend some amount on creating awareness among the people.

Countries in different part of the world have shown that people can be educated to understand the benefit of such programs. Hope creating awareness on the value of life isn’t that difficult if the government has the right intentions. Hope the govt start to learn something from this tragedy and comes out of its slumber.

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Saurabh Sinha

Saurabh Sinha

Saurabh Sinha is working as a Senior Consultant in a software company, Member of BJP AP IT Cell.