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Features

How do we ensure better fire safety?

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Delhi’s Khan Market, Mumbai’s BKC and Lower Parel, and Bengaluru’s Koramangala are metropolitan India’s unofficial party districts that house multiple bars, restaurants, nightclubs, pubs, hookah lounges and fine-dine restaurants.

After Kamala Mills’ fatal fire that claimed 14 lives, plush restaurants in malls, commercial buildings and standalones, at these as well as other states in India, have come under scrutiny. The government’s unpreparedness and lack of resources have also come to light. The fire broke out on December 29, 2017. Close to 100 BMC officials are up for inquiry post the incident.

Earlier this month, the municipal corporation sealed 30 restaurants across 24 wards in Mumbai, a day after demolishing 314 illegal structures and sealing several of them. Many restaurants in Delhi’s Khan Market were also sealed by NDMC and 57 rooftop bars and restaurants in Bengaluru were ordered to shut. Following the closure notice, a fire broke out at Kailash Bar and Restaurant in Kalasipalyam area on 8 January 2017 in Bengaluru. It claimed five lives.

Al fresco dining at the Olive Bar & Kitchen

After much intense debate, the smoke has died down, but the issue still persists. BlackBook spoke to experts about what the industry needs to do now, after the hullabaloo and knee-jerk reactions are done with, to address this urgent concern.

‘NRAI will help conduct external fire audits’

Rahul Singh, President, National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) & Founder & CEO, BTB Marketing Pvt. Ltd. (The Beer Cafe)

Two-thirds of our vast industry remains unorganised and susceptible to flouting norms. Flouting norms is not a mark of bravado but a crime, an act that endangers people. As the investment entry barrier for setting up a standalone restaurant or a pub is rather low, we have witnessed scores of fly-by-night operators enter the sector.

Sealing a restaurant won’t help. Aiming to create a safe public environment should be the goal. We will now see a big consumer awareness movement as part of the aftermath of this incident. Consequently, we will start seeing consumers steering towards only those establishments that have previously met the public standards.

NRAI membership comes with the pre-condition of restaurants providing a copy of their license to operate. NRAI will add further facets to this repository by taking copies of food and fire safety licenses from all our current as well as future members.

One of the most effective tools for fire prevention in an establishment is an external inspection. Only a state or a city appointed fire department can conduct a statutory audit, however NRAI will engage with external agencies for periodic checks. The association cannot levy any financial penalty, but will certainly de-list members for non-compliance.

‘All stakeholders need to commit to the highest standards for safety’

AD Singh, Managing Director, Olive Bar & Kitchen Pvt. Ltd.

After the fire, authorities across the country have become increasingly vigilant. I am sure that by now all restaurants have conducted a thorough audit of their respective spaces and reviewed the exact status of fire and safety norms—and improved on any shortcomings.

All stakeholders involved need to commit to the highest level of standards for safety. Concerned authorities should undertake a disciplined approach to make sure all the required measures are being met along with regular reviewing and monitoring. For the Olive Group, most of our restaurants are in malls across the country, while others are standalone outlets. The safety requirements and quotients in malls are substantially higher than those required to run free-standing spaces. But, as a company, we are putting in place the highest level of safety standards across all our outposts, it in malls or otherwise.

‘Don’t demolish without reason’

Shripal Morakhia, Founder, Chief Imagination Officer, SMAAASH

Earlier this month, SMAAASH, an interactive gaming and entertainment centre in Kamala Mills was demolished by BMC officials on accord of illegal encroachments. Shripal Morakhia, Founder and Chief Imagination Officer at SMAASH took to Facebook to let people know that this was an act of hooliganism by BMC. In an open letter to everyone, Morakhia wrote that he’s no ‘fly by night operator’. He has been in business since he was 22 and he is at 60 now.

Throughout his Facebook post, he says that the BMC demolished SMAAASH’s grounds and their other venture Pravas, a Gujarati Kitchen and Bar.

“SMAAASH occupies a building of 20,000 Sq. Ft. and also has an open area of 7,000 Sq. Ft. A part of the open area was covered by tensile fabric not to get any economic benefit but to provide comfort to the consumers from heat and rain. However, the same was demolished without any prior notice.”

“We also run a traditional restaurant since a year which serves Gujarati food called Pravas. It is designed like a train with two bogies. BMC officials highlighted to us that the design of the bogies was 4 Ft. beyond the demarcation line, to which we stated that we would remove it but it was demolished instantly on 30th Dec, 2017.”

SMAAASH moved court of 1 January to seek legal support as they learned that BMC officials were on the verge of destroying their other establishments, 18.99 Latitude Banquets and Verbena – BrewPub & SkyGarden. Morakhia told BlackBook that “Following the instructions of the court, an inspection of both the properties were conducted on 2 January by a BMC team, and both the structures were found in order. The case came up for hearing on 8 January, and for paucity of time being postponed to 13th of April 2018.”

‘We need better urban planning’

Ashiesh Shah, Architect and Interior Designer

This incident only reflects a complete lack of urban planning. If this was a proper restaurant site in the city’s development plan (DP), there would be a lot of rules imposed.

The incident took place on a terrace, of a building that was not designed to host a restaurant. The real problem here began with the builder.

The fire safety norms in India are quite stringent, as long as they are followed. Quick-in and quick-out accesses are very important for both public and private spaces. Have fire drills. Train the staff – they should how to evacuate the crowd and where to evacuate them from. Don’t block the entrances and exits.

Autonomous restaurant and bar associations should inspect each restaurant’s certifications. These autonomous bodies play watchdog for the sake of the entire industry.

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