The Bombay High Court has been informed by the Maharashtra government that the new fire safety laws would be announced by May 20, 2024. Before the deadline, the administration promised to finish all required procedures, including getting the Chief Minister’s permission and releasing the notification.
The information came in light of the recent developments on the fire safety Public Interest Litigation (hereinafter PIL) ongoing in the Bombay High Court. The Bench of Chief Justice D.K Upadhyay and Justice Arif Doctor scrutinizing the timeline, expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s delay.
The Hon’ble Bombay High Court had pulled up the Maharashtra government and questioned its laxness in the implementation of these new fire safety regulations observing the recent two tragic deaths at a Girgaum fire of a man, 60 and his 82-year-old mother, and observing how Mumbai had frequent fires “every other day and people are losing lives.”
The Court had earlier appointed an expert committee which it noted had even submitted its report on the implementation of the regulations in February this year and wondered why the government is yet to make any progress on it.
The state’s timeline also said that notice to incorporate security rules in Unified Development Control and Promotion Regulations (UDCPR) and Development Control and Promotion Regulations (DCPR), 2034, is expected by January 22, 2024, and then procedures to be adopted by the Town Planning officer and UDD is expected to issue final notification under the MRTP Act by May 20, 2024.
CONTENTIONS OF THE PETITIONERS
The petitioner who introduced the PIL contended that the Government was at fault as they were unnecessarily delaying the information to be published. Additional Government Pleader Jyoti Chavan explained that a meeting was held on December 4 to work out the procedure. However, petitioner and advocate Abha Singh noted that the meeting took place on December 4 because the petition hearing was scheduled for December 6.
The PIL filed by lawyer Abha Singh, argued advocate Aditya Pratap, sought directions to the state to issue the final notifications on the ‘Special Regulations for Building Vulnerable to Manmade disasters.
Pratap claimed: “severe deficiencies in the realms of fire safety” in Mumbai and argued that number of fire stations was grossly disproportionate to the City’s Population and fire services were found wanting in several wards with time to reach after a fire call ‘excessive’ at times due to various factors. At times the approach road is narrow.
Abha Singh initiated the litigation in 2019, seeking the enforcement of draft rules and regulations for fire safety issued in 2009 after the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai.
The court expressed optimism that the government would follow the deadline, acknowledging the limitations on shortening the term and recording the assurance in its order. The Chief Justice made a statement on the frequency of short circuits as a primary cause of fires and asked whose department was in charge of electrical safety. Chavan said that electrical safety is managed by the city fire department, which is a division of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).
The Bench directed Advocate Singh to include BMC as a party and instructed the Fire Brigade to provide specific details, including their average response time and the manpower required in each fire station. The court will reconvene on January 30 to further hear the Public Interest Litigation filed by Singh, seeking directions for the issuance of the final notification on ‘Special Regulations for Buildings Vulnerable to Man-Made Disasters.’
EXISTING NORMS AND LEGISLATIONS
Measures necessary in accordance with the Building Byelaws / provisions of National Building Code of India, 2005, for the prevention, control and fighting of fire and for ensuring the safety of life and property in case of fire. The Fire Act requires building owners and occupants to install firefighting measures and ensure proper evacuation measures in the case of fire emergency. The Act contains comprehensive guidelines towards securing the fire safety of old as well as new buildings in the State of Maharashtra.
The Act extends to the whole of the State of Maharashtra, and it applies to all building owners and occupants. Even licensees and tenants are classified as ‘occupiers which are defined under the legislation as Licensee / Tenants (irrespective of whether rent is paid / payable / not required to be paid), owner using land or building or part and members of a co-operative housing society or an apartment owner.
Some of the offences mentioned in the framework are-
1. Offences under the Act shall be punished with imprisonment of not less than 6 Months and may extend to 03 Years and with fine Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 50,000.
2. Offence under Sub Section (4) of Sec 3 and sub section (4) of Section (8) of the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act, 2015 shall be cognizable and non bailable.
3. Where any offence under this Act has been committed by a company and it is proved that the offence has been committed with the consent or connivance of, or is attributable to any neglect on the part of any director, manager, secretary or other officer of the company, such director, manager, secretary or other officer shall also be deemed to be guilty of that offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.
The Government of Maharashtra had published the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures (Amendment) Act, 2023 to further amend the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act, 2006. They shall come into force on such date as the State Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette. The State Government is expected to give the final inputs in the month of May 2024 according to the timeline. The Hon’ble Court would have to ensure that the timeline is well complied with by the Maharashtra Government and any delay or lackadaisical approach on behalf of them is exterminated for the welfare of the public at large.
Aditya Pratap is a lawyer and founder of Aditya Pratap Law Offices. He practices in the realm of real estate, corporate, and criminal law. His website is adityapratap.in and his media interviews can be accessed at http://www.youtube.com/@AdityaPratap/featured. Views expressed are personal.
This article has been assisted by Kush Shanker, a 2nd-year law student pursuing B.B.A.LL.B. (Hons.) from Maharashtra National Law University, Aurangabad.