New Delhi: An early morning fire at a hotel in the national capital’s Karol Bagh area that claimed the lives of 17 people Tuesday has raised red flags in the fire department for failing to highlight violation of norms.
Preliminary internal findings of the department, responsible for issuing a no-objection certificate (NOC) to establishments, into one of Delhi’s worst fire incidents have suggested lapses on the part of its officials who conducted the last inspection of Hotel Arpit Palace in December 2017.
The findings say that the officials failed to alert the department that the hotel was flouting the terms of the NOC by running two fully functional kitchens — despite being registered as a guest house, where cooking is not allowed — and blocking an exit door with boxes and a guard post.
The NOC has to be renewed every three years. The renewal process for Hotel Arpit Palace was to next come up in 2020.
“The hotel didn’t have permission to have a functional terrace. They were in a clear violation of the NOC,” said chief fire officer Atul Garg.
Hotel Arpit was allowed permission for only four floors and a basement to be used for storage. However, the hotel turned both the basement and the terrace into a restaurant.
The fire reportedly started from a shaft which carries all the wiring and spread to the roof.
Sources said that necessary action will be taken against the officials concerned on the completion of the investigation.
According to a senior official in the department, the original NOC application for the hotel in 2001 registered it as a guest house.
A fire department official said Delhi Fire Service rules don’t allow an establishment registered as a guest house to cook on the premises.
“They weren’t allowed kitchens on the premises,” said a fire department official on condition of anonymity.
“Apparently, when the inspection happened they claimed that the basement restaurant wasn’t linked to the main building, but we found the entrance,” the official added.
“There were two fully operational kitchens, one on the terrace and another in the basement. This clearly flouted the rules and should have been raised as a concern in 2017,” said the official.
The state of the second exit in the building was another lapse, according to the official.
“It was blocked by a guard post and other items. That in itself is cause for grave concern,” said the official.
Moreover, the hotel had wood-panelled its corridors and exit routes, making them virtually inaccessible for the occupants during the fire.
Most of the deaths Tuesday occurred due to smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning. Even the windows were air tight, and the mechanism to unlock them was not easily accessible.
Over 1,500 such establishments, hotels and guest houses have been provided an NOC by the fire department in Delhi, said Garg.
Nearly 50 per cent of the applicants for an NOC are sent back by the department for “shortcomings”, but there is no circumscribed time limit within which they have to be fixed, said the official quoted above.
No establishment is allowed to function till an NOC is issued by the department.
Increase in workload
The fire department, facing a staff crunch, has dispatched six teams to assess the 288 establishments that have been provided an NOC in the Karol Bagh area.
“We have an acute shortage of people. The strength has only decreased over time, I think we had more people 20 years ago,” said deputy chief fire officer Sunil Chowdhary.
Ever since the amendment to Delhi Fire Service Rules in 2010, the workload of the department has increased exponentially, said Chowdhary.
“Almost 70 per cent of Delhi is non-conforming. If we look at Karol Bagh as a disaster waiting to happen, then Chandni Chowk, Munirka, Lado Sarai are all the same,” said Garg.