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Himachal Pradesh schools and hospitals face fire safety lapses

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Fire safety lapses in government schools and hospitals across the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh are putting the lives of students, workers, and visitors at risk, according to a recent report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) as reported in the Hindustan Times.

The report revealed that only 55 of the state’s 2,806 government schools and none of the 99 major government hospitals had obtained fire no-objection-certificates (NOC). Additionally, the report found that the state’s fire department lacked provisions to enforce compliance and penal provisions for non-adherence to fire safety norms.

The Himachal Pradesh Fire Fighting Services Act, 1984, empowers the department to examine premises for compliance with fire safety norms, but the report found that it had not conducted vulnerability analysis of fire-vulnerable buildings or identified hazardous industries or high-rise buildings, despite recommendations by the Public Accounts Committee.

The report also revealed that 23 fire control centres did not have adequate and reliable sources of water, and only 85 firefighting vehicles were available against an approved fleet strength of 11. Against a sanctioned strength of 938 posts for operational staff, 257 (28%) posts were lying vacant, adversely impacting the capacity of fire control centres.

The audit found that the department did not conduct any physical assessment test for firefighters in the 2018-21 period. Furthermore, the unique toll-free number (101) assigned to attend first information about fire incidents had not been made available in any of the fire posts across the state, and the report warned that this could result in information delay and delayed response to fire incidents.

The National Disaster Management guidelines recommend provisions in the legal framework/Fire Act of the state requiring mandatory department clearances for all high-rise buildings, colonies, residential clusters, business centers, malls, etc. However, the CAG report suggests that defaulters continue to have a free pass, putting the lives of students and workers at risk.

The report’s findings highlight the urgent need for action to ensure that fire safety standards are met and enforced across the state’s government schools and hospitals.

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