Despite improvements in fire emergency facilities in recent months, Mukherjee Nagar, a hub of coaching centres in north Delhi, remains on a tinder box as was proved by the fire in girls’ PG hostel last week. There were 35 girls present in the PG accommodation at the time of the incident. Five of them were rushed to hospital following complaints of difficulty in breathing.
The fire incident on September 27 follows another in Sanskriti IAS coaching centre in the month of June which left 10 students injured.
The students in the area admitted that they have seen improvement but it is not commensurate with the fees that the institutes are charging.
“Though the infrastructure of the building is the same, the centres have installed a fire safety system after the incident in June. We also see officers of Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) visit here regularly for inspection,” said a UPSC (Civil Services) aspirant, who was strolling around in the area.
“The entry and exit gates of the institutes have also been changed or renovated. If that kind of incident were to happen again, we can easily escape or get rescued. The owners of coaching institutes are also in fear. If they don’t make changes, it can affect their business (coaching),” he added as three of his colleagues, who are also preparing for the same exam, nodded in approval.
The student, who did not want to be named, however, said that there needs to be further enhancement to reflect the huge fees they are charging.
“The wire cable and other equipment have been changed but it needs improvement. Their coaching charges (fees) are high but they don’t provide as many security facilities,” he added.
The part of the building that caught fire in June is still sealed. But other parts of the same building, including third floor where a crowded class of the famous SSC maths by Punit Chaudhary is held, are running despite lurking danger.
Though alarm and fire extinguishers have been installed on the staircase and all floors, the lone staircase for entry and exit holds the biggest threat. It can lead to stampede.
“Student gathering is disallowed now [in the building]. They either attend the class or meet outside the building. For any problem there is a safety alarm. Apart from this, two office boys are at the entrance of the classrooms,” said one of the two caretakers, who were on duty outside the gate.
An aspirant, who is attending SSC coaching, said that the coaching environment is good while another said that the work on fire safety and security has improved in their centres.
Officers from the municipal corporation have sealed many floors. Two days ago they sealed around 20 centres. They pasted a notice outside the gates too.
A KD Campus student, who is preparing for SSC-CGL, said, “Our classes run on the third floor. There are over 500 students in a class but there is only a single door for entry and exit. Yes, fire equipment has been installed. But if something untoward happens, there is no chance to exit.”
UniExams IAS is also running in cramped space on the second floor of the same building which caught fire in June.
Director of coaching, Anil told Patriot that if need arises, they will hold the classes online.
“We have installed fire equipment, water supply and siren. The fire safety officer came for inspection and approved it. We have no problem because we do online classes mainly. Only some attend off-line classes. If we feel there is any problem, we can do it completely online,” he added.
Anil said that they are willing to relocate if the situation gets worse.
“An officer from MCD came here on September 26 and pasted a notice outside the gate. We are running this according to norms but the building is old so we are willing to shift,” Anil concluded.
Packed with students
The area is generally abuzz with students and promoters of coaching institutes distributing pamphlets and trying to convince students.
A female UPSC aspirant, studying at Drishti IAS, was sipping coconut water from a cart nearby. The founder of the institute, Vikas Divyakirti, is generally seen giving motivational lectures on social media platforms.
The aspirant told Patriot, “Safety standards in our coaching institute were good earlier too but after this (June) incident, they have installed an external iron staircase for third floor. There are around 300 students attending a class. The basement has 3-4 entry-exit gates, which is enough. The owners have also installed safety fire balls, which diffuse a dry chemical to extinguish fire.”
DSL institute offers English classes for SSC (Staff Selection Commission), DSSSB (Delhi Subordinate Services Selection Board), NDA (National Defence Academy), among others in the building opposite the one that caught fire. They have revamped and installed safety features in the institute which has around 500 students and is running since 2012.
Karanjot Singh, the manager of DSL, told Patriot, “First we decreased the strength of students in our classes from 150 to 100. Then, the fire safety alarm and fire cylinder were installed on the staircase. Extra and unnecessary wires were removed. We installed a new electricity meter as per NDPL (North Delhi Power Limited) norms.”
Since there is no possibility of creating multiple exits, Karanjot says that they are seeking an alternative and have put up a rope ladder in the classroom, which can help students exit from the window at the back.
“We also have a safety box. We also do fire safety exercises in our demo class for the awareness of students,” he added.
The incident in June at Sanskriti IAS had left the students angry. A student of the institute, who was eyewitness of the fire incident and was present in the class, is now satisfied with the safety features installed in the new building from where the institute is running now.
“There are now three gates for exit. Safety fire balls, which were not there earlier, have also been installed. The number of fire cylinders has increased and more than 10 trained caretakers have been appointed for any emergency,” he revealed.
Patriot visited the new building and noticed a very big area which opens on both sides of the road. There is also a big hall outside the classroom where finishing work is in progress.
“We moved to this building which fulfils the safety and fire NOC norms. It is only double storeyed. We run classes in the basement as of now, and will also have them on first floor in near future. We have realised from the accident that there is a problem in rescue on the third and fourth floors,” Arun Singh, the centre head, told Patriot.
Singh showed this correspondent around. There was an exit gate at the back, balcony among other facilities.
“We have installed around 50 fire cylinders. The air-conditioning is on the rooftop. The electricity meter is outside. The wiring used has been approved by the engineer. The height of the floor is 20 feet, which removes suffocation.”
Singh also showed the fire safety and other documents, which have been approved by the authority.
“We went to the High Court and asked for the documents needed to run the institute. MCD and the fire department gave us a list on the order of the court, and we did the needful. We increased the support staff and also appointed doctors for any health issues. Now all the fundamental requirements have been fulfilled,” he explained.
When asked about the impact after the incident, Singh said, “All students and their guardians are satisfied by our response. We got the five injured students treated in hospitals of their choice. We took care of their requirements. The classes have been running here for two months now. All the old students are attending class.”
Patriot called up the Station House Officer (SHO), Mukherjee Nagar to speak on the two incidents.
He did reveal much except, “A case has been filed in the [new] matter.”
The North MCD (Civil Lines) District Commissioner did not respond to repeated calls from Patriot.