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Blame game begins after fire in Surat textile market

After over 15 hours and Rs 400 crore worth property damage, the massive fire outbreak at the multi-storeyed Orchid Textile Market in Sahara Darwaja area of Surat might have ended but the blame game has begun.

Both the textile trading community in the synthetic textile industry hub and the local authorities are blaming each other for the third brigade call in a month. According to Pankaj Patel, chief fire officer at Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC), a brigade call is given when a fire outbreak becomes uncontrollable.

But first, the statistics. There are roughly around 250 multi-storeyed buildings that act as textile markets. Each of these buildings house textile trading units or godowns (or both) ranging from anywhere between 200 and 5000. Over 95 per cent of these textile markets are located on the 3 km stretch of Delhi Darwaja (Gate) – Udhna Darwaja (Gate).

War of words has ensued over who is responsible for the spate of fire outbreaks.  “Both the developer and textile traders are at fault here. Either there is inadequate fire safety measures ensured in the buildings or the security personnel are not trained enough,” said another senior fire and emergency services officer.

Surat mayor Niranjan Jajmera has vowed “strict action against offenders”. “We will ensure that all buildings have adequate fire safety measures and nobody will be spared,” he added.

On the other hand, the textile trading community has raised doubts over efficacy of local authorities in granting building use (BU) certificate to buildings with inadequate fire safety measures.

“Who is responsible for a fully functional building that has inadequate fire safety measures? Why did the SMC even grant BU permission even in the first place? Also, has it ensured that security personnel at these buildings are trained in using such fire safety equipment?” asked Devkishan Manghani, chairman – textile committee at South Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industries (SGCCI).

The SMC drew flak in its fire control exercise at Orchid. The Orchid building fire that began at 9 am took 35 fire trucks and three hydraulic fire trucks, along with over 30 fire and emergency services personnel to bring it under control – after 15 hours. Not only fire trucks from neighbouring municipalities such as Bardoli and Navsari were put into action, but also help sought in form of fire safety equipment and experts from firms like Essar and ONGC.

What further highlights its inadequacy to arrest such a situation in future is that SMC has only recently invited tenders for hydraulic fire trucks that can tackle fires at heights of 70 metres and 55 metres.

“So far we had hydraulic fire trucks that could only manage heights of around 22 metres since most of the buildings used to be around 25 metres high. But now we will soon have trucks that can do heights of 70 metres and 55 metres. We have helped other municipalities in their time of need. We didn’t seek any help. Instead, they offered to help up front,” explained Jajmera.

However, occupants of Orchid Textile Market said that while the building has adequate fire safety equipment, security personnel were not adept in using the same. On the other hand, a visit to Kohinoor Textile Market that saw a fire outbreak on May 3 in the second and third floors of the eight-storeyed building revealed that it was void of any fire hose installation or fire sprinkler system, except for a fire alarm system.

“About 30-40 per cent of the buildings do not have such fire and safety measures and the ones that have do not see much use since the security personnel are well trained,” said Vivek Dasani of Kaveri Textiles, one of the units in the building.

The other brigade call at Landmark Textile Market on Poona road revealed that while the building was equipped with the latest fire safety equipment, the same turned out to be faulty.  The fire outbreak at Landmark had resulted in death of a 45-year-old who jumped to death in an attempt to escape fire on the eighth floor.  Even then the textile community had taken umbrage at the arrest of Madhav Patel, the developer of Landmark Textile Market.

Meanwhile, according to SMC officials, while textile goods worth only around Rs 150-200 crore would have been damaged at Orchid, it is actually the damage to structure that might have shot up the value to over Rs 400 crore.

“Our primary investigation reveals there is an immense damage to the structure of the building. To what extent is the damage will only be ascertained after a thorough investigation by our team of structural engineers,” said Patel.

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