Many Uphaars waiting to happen at Delhi’s Gen Z watering hole

The scars of the man made calamity might have faded in these 26 years yet the trauma of the events is still fresh in the minds of the people who lost their loved ones.

The 1997 Uphaar cinema fire tragedy which claimed 59 lives including 23 children, the massive fire that killed 17 people, including a child, at Arpit Palace hotel in Karol Bagh 2019 and the fire that engulfed Kamala Mills, a commercial complex in Lower Parel killing 14 people and injuring several others in December 2017 are the grim reminders of safety norms being flouted continuously in the national capital.

South Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village, a favourite spot of youngsters and booze lovers, is also in the danger zone of a fire hazard which the majority of these restaurants cum bars are vulnerable to.

The area is popular for two things — resto-bars and high-end

boutiques. Scores of people including youngsters always throng to the bars and restro in Hauz Khas to celebrate weekends. On weekdays, one can see the rush in these restaurants especially in the evening.

The trendy bars and the crowds attract the youth to Hauz Khas Village where people hardly have place to walk. But the visitors forget that this place is a hub of illegal commercial establishments that are a constant threat to one’s life, considering the fact that they hardly follow the basic mandatory legal precautions.

A senior Delhi Fire Service (DFS) official said that the Village is congested and has narrow roads and the fire engines can’t enter these lanes.

There are above 60 restaurants running in the Village with the rules being flouted as the fire department says only two are operating with the necessary no-objection certificate (NOC) from the department while the rest are operating without NOCs.

“Being in narrow lanes, the whole area is vulnerable and not safe from fire. Most of them are not even eligible for NOCs. Many restaurants have been operating from second or third floors of buildings which is not only illegal but also dangerous,” said the fire official.

Most of the restaurants have kept the seating arrangements below the eligibility criteria to have a NOC. Most of the bar-cum-restaurants have less than 45-46 seats. If they expand it to above 50 seats, they need to get a NOC.

“Most of the resto-bars do not fit in the requirement category, so the fire department will not give them permission, even if they apply for a NOC. The area is narrow and fire tenders cannot reach there. And in case of a major fire, the risk doubles,” said Atul Garg, Director of DFS.

In 2017, the Delhi High Court had observed that Hauz Khas Village is “a ticking time bomb”.

The court had also observed that neither the government agencies, nor the restaurant owners have responded to its queries on safety and other issues.

A bench headed by Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal had warned the associations of restaurant owners that they will not be allowed to escape civil and criminal liability in case any unfortunate incident takes place, as there was virtually no space for emergency vehicles to enter the area.

The authorities claimed that the observation will galvanise a large number of restaurants and several other smaller business units that fail to act in accordance with the existing fire safety norms.

The observation comes following the suggestions of a sub-committee formed by the Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government after a fire at Hotel Arpit Palace in Karol Bagh in 2019 which claimed 17 lives.

Five years after the court directions, under the nose of the

civic authorities, the illegal businesses continue to run. It has raised questions about the functioning of the authorities despite court orders.

(Shekhar Singh can be reached at shekhar.s@ians.in)

20230122-095404

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