Two children died as fire engulfed a school building in Faridabad last month, triggering widespread concern over preventive measures and wherewithal to fight such disasters.
Now a Mail Today reality check has revealed that the situation in Delhi is much more alarming: as many as 1,981 schools – both private and public – do not have no-objection certificates (NOCs) from the fire department.
This is 34 per cent of all 5,773 schools in the National Capital. Some schools have been operating without these mandatory NOCs for as long as 13 years but they have not been fined even once, government data seen by Mail Today shows.
This is scary because obtaining or renewal of NOCs ensures periodic checks, rectification of flaws in fire-safety systems and availability of adequate equipment.
The current situation is despite the fact that the Delhi High Court has often pulled up government and municipal authorities for not taking action against schools for violating fire-safety norms.
Simran Arora, whose 14-year-old son studies at a school in South Delhi’s Jangpura, said, “If schools cannot make their buildings fire-proof, what are they charging us the huge fees for? We have been raising the issue for long.”
Mail Today found that the school has not had its fire NOC renewed since 2011. The fire department acknowledged the situation and said notices are being sent to erring schools.
“If these schools do not apply for NOCs even then, we will seek legal help,” said Delhi Fire Department Chief Atul Garg. He said the department had a staff shortage of 40 per cent.
“The present staff is overworked. Once newly recruited personnel join us next month, we will send notices to all buildings which do not have NOCs,” he said.
Advocate Kush Kalra has moved the Delhi High Court for action on making schools fire-safe.
He has claimed that authorities, including the municipal corporations, were clueless on such an important issue. “The Supreme Court had in 2009 ordered all schools to have fire-safety certificates, but this is not being complied with.”
According to government rules, a school building above nine meters in height needs clearance from the fire department and it has to be renewed within three years.
However, Arunava Dasgupta of School of Planning and Architecture said that all buildings for children, no matter the height, must have fire clearances.
“Many school buildings are old. Necessary infrastructural changes are required to fight fire and make way for easy evacuation,” he said.
As per the Directorate of Education (DoE), all school buildings must be accessible to fire machines and all classrooms having more than 45 students should have minimum two doors. Schools must have fire extinguishers and staircases must be broad.
Many schools do not have NOCs simply because they have narrow staircases and are located in congested lanes where fire engines cannot move. Many schools also do not have sufficient fire extinguishers.
“We have written several letters for the government to intervene. We also suggested that a committee be formed on the issue, but nothing has been done so far,” said a fire department official.
“Often our inspection takes a long time due to exams, parentsteachers meetings and vacations,” the official said.
WHAT SCHOOLS SAY
“We do attend fire-safety drills that take place once a year. But I am not sure if the school has fire NOC,” said a teacher of a school in South Delhi’s Panchsheel Park.
Mail Today found that the school has not had its fire NOC renewed in the last one year.
An administrative official of a school in South Delhi’s Sangam Vihar, whose NOC has been pending for renewal since 2016, said, “The narrow lanes make it difficult for fire engines to reach the school building. Also, the widths of the staircase and the classroom doors are a problem. The principal of a government school that has not had a fire NOC since 2011 said: “Ours is an old building. The fire department cannot give an NOC because the staircase is very narrow. Also, the classroom doors are not wide enough,” he said.