Two weeks after the Bhagirath Palace area of Chandni Chowk caught fire that destroyed over 200 shops, another fire accident occurred at the Bara Tooti Chowk in Delhi’s famous Sadar Bazar, where a motorcycle caught fire and burned along with 26 vehicles parked nearby.
There were no casualties, but the incident raised concerns about safety in the market which comprises old shops and is overcrowded and congested with thousands of visitors at any given time. Another similar accident can easily result in another Bhagirath Palace-type mishap.
“The incident that happened with the vehicles can happen with shops too and if something like that happens then only God can save us,” said Mukesh Gupta, a shopkeeper.
Gupta further added that the market authorities had applied for refurbishment under the redevelopment of the market scheme announced by Manish Sisodia in April but weren’t selected.
Neighbouring Khari Baoli is among those selected besides Kamla Nagar, Lajpat Nagar, Sarojini Nagar and Kirti Nagar.
Sadar Bazar is known for providing a diverse range of cosmetic and household products at reasonable prices to hundreds of wholesale and retail outlets.
“The majority of the shops here have a ‘No Objection Certificate’ and we ask new shop owners – who come here on rent — to install safety measures in case of any mishap,” said Janit, a member of the Sadar Bazar Traders Association.
But quite a few shops, like Gupta’s for example, don’t have fire extinguishers which is a necessity.
Ghanshyam Singh, who sells clocks in his shop, admits all the shopkeepers are sitting on a tinderbox. But he is hoping nothing untoward happens.
“My shop has been here for the last 15 years and we’ve seen many debacles but nothing has happened. The market is still going strong,” he said.
But if a fire accident were to happen?
“That is something we cannot control. No one wants a short-circuit to happen but it’s just one of those things that you cannot control. As far as congestion is concerned, the market was made way before even I was born and that too at a grand level so it’s quite impossible to change that overnight,” he added.
Janit explained that the market is overloaded, catering to more people than it can take care of.
“The accessibility due to metro, people celebrating festivals after a gap of two years and the ongoing wedding season — all of these reasons have boosted the footfall in the market during this period. It also means traders are facing increased workload and keeping their shops open till late which is resulting in more electricity consumption and chances of short circuit,” explained Janit.
“It is not like we can ask the people to go back or have only a fixed number of visitors. Everyone wants to earn more these days, so I would say it’s all inter-related and you get both good and bad sides of it,” he said further.
Atul Garg, the chief of Delhi Fire Service, had earlier told Patriot that a ‘No Objection Certificate’ can minimise such accidents.
Garg had said that NOC is provided only after a comprehensive inspection of the building shows that the owner has implemented the advice in accordance with the standards set by the fire department.
According to the Delhi Fire Service Act, 2007, the punishment for not possessing an NOC is three to six months in jail and a fine ranging from Rs 1,000 to Rs 50,000.
“So, once an NOC is given, safety precautions are arranged in such a manner that everyone is warned about the fire using a fire detector. Water sprinklers are also installed with adequate water supply, and there are compartments in the building to evacuate people in the event of a fire,” he had said.
Garg, however, admitted that the fire department, unlike the police and MCD, does not have field survey people.
“Therefore, we can’t go check all these structures to see if they have NOC or not,” he said.
Janit added that more than the equipment like fire extinguishers, the helpful spirit of the traders comes to the rescue.
“The other day as well, it was the people present here who prevented the fire from reaching shops,” he concluded.
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