Shimla, April 11- Himachal Pradesh Fire Audit Uncovers Widespread Safety Issues
The CAG report also pointed out that the department had not conducted a vulnerability analysis of fire-prone buildings, nor had they prepared a database of hazardous industries. Despite recommendations from the Public Account Committee to identify high-rise buildings, the department had not created a database for such structures.
The report highlighted the non-compliance of schools and hospitals in obtaining fire no-objection certificates (NOCs). The Supreme Court had directed every school to obtain a mandatory fire NOC after a fire incident in a school court in April 2009. However, the Fire Department informed in September 2021 that out of 2,806 government schools in the state, only 55 schools had obtained fire NOCs during the period 2018-21. Moreover, all 996 major government hospitals in the state had not obtained fire NOCs.
The report also noted that there were no penal provisions in the legal framework of the state to take action against defaulters. The non-compliance with Supreme Court and Ministry of Home Affairs directions posed a risk to the lives of the general public working in or visiting these buildings.
During the audit period of 2018-2021, there were 5,301 fire incidents in 23 test-checked fire control centers, causing a loss of 117 human and 43 cattle lives, along with an estimated property loss of Rs 479.28 crore.
The CAG report conducted a joint physical inspection of 24 buildings with officials of the Fire Services department in August-September 2021 and February 2022. The buildings were selected from amongst those that had applied for NOCs from the Fire Department. It was found that 17 of the 24 buildings had received NOCs upon demonstrating adherence to fire safety norms. However, in the remaining seven buildings, the department’s suggestions had not been complied with even after 08 to 93 months of inspections. In the absence of mandatory clearance or NOC requirement and penal provision, the department was unable to initiate any action against the building owners or occupants.
The report recommended that the Fire Department be strengthened to improve its preparedness for disaster management. The report highlighted shortcomings such as inadequate and unreliable sources of water at fire control centers, a shortage of fire-fighting vehicles, and a significant number of vacant posts in the department.
The CAG report noted that against the approved fleet strength of 115 fire-fighting vehicles in the state, only 85 were available. The department also surrendered a budget of Rs 6.22 crore under ‘Motor Vehicle’ during 2018-21. Against the sanctioned strength of 938 posts of operational staff, 257 (28%) posts were lying vacant, adversely impacting the capacity of fire control centers.
The department did not conduct any physical assessment test of firefighters during 2018-21 to ascertain their fitness for the job. Out of 679 operational staff in the department, 437 (64%) were above the age of 45 years, and the department had not conducted any physical assessment tests for them. According to SFAC recommendations, 45 years should be the upper age limit for firemen involved in firefighting and rescue operations, and physical assessment tests should be held every six months to ensure that they are fit to perform their duties.
Summarising, the CAG report highlighted several shortcomings in the Fire Services Department of the Home Department in Himachal Pradesh.