The fire at New Market of Fancy Bazar in Guwahati of Diwali night that turned the place to rubble and caused fincial losses in excess of Rs 100 crore was something that ought not to have happened and must not be allowed to happen again. Even though more than 100 people from different agencies were pressed into the fire-fighting operation, the fire that had spread very quickly to adjacent buildings raged for about 18 hours. Such fires almost invariably cause the greatest damage in the most thickly populated areas and where shops have been allowed to come up in the worst possible kind of congestion without any regard to safety regulations and without the observance of the minimum precautions regarding building bye-laws or electrical connections. Electrical fires are most common because people who ought to know better are in the habit of using wire termils without plugs in electricity outlets. Wednesday’s fire was all the more devastating for two reasons. First, the shops were so congested and the alleys so rrow that fire-fighters had no means of getting to the locations where the fire was at its worst. In such situations, even the best fire-fighters and the most sophisticated fire-fighting equipment are destined to fail. And because of the time lost in getting to the worst affected spots, the fire is allowed more time to rage on and do much greater damage than would have been possible in less congested locations. Second, even though the fire started in a garments-cum-cotton shop, quite a few of the shops in the area also had stocks of highly explosive firecrackers for Diwali. At any other time, the damage done by the fire might have been considerably less. In one sense, therefore, Wednesday’s devastating fire can be attributed largely to the violation of several rules and laws relating both to the avoidance of objectioble congestion and to the safety rules relating to electrical connections. And since all intelligent people are expected to profit from experience (despite the crippling fincial losses incurred), the first lesson that needs to be learnt from Wednesday’s fire is that if we persist with the same kind of lawbreaking, we are asking for similar or worse mishaps in future.
In rebuilding New Market and the rest of the shopping complex at Fancy Bazar, the government must pay closer attention to the strict observance of building bye-laws and laws relating to safety and electrical installations. In a memorandum to the Chief Minister of Assam, the Purvottar Marwari Sanmilan has demanded immediate rehabilitation of all the affected traders without bias. This is a ratiol and legitimate demand. However, one fails to understand why a demand should be made also to permit reconstruction on the basis of the old building bye-laws and not the new ones. Such a stance merely ensures that the old and outdated laws for building, giving rise to congestion and the hazards stemming from such congestion, are sought to be resurrected, ignoring the painful experience of an uncontrollable fire and learning nothing from it. It is a case of demanding from the government the right to break all safe building bye-laws that the government ected and expecting the same government to extend help in such lawbreaking and creation of similar situations where the same government’s fire-fighting force will be bound to fail again to control devastating fires because some of the places where the fire burns will again remain iccessible to fire-fighters. This will leave the door open for finding fault with fire-fighters for not being able to control a fire because places have been made iccessible to fire-fighting equipment due to human greed. It is unfortute that responsible organizations of our citizens should make irresponsible and unwise demands merely because they refuse to learn even from traumatic experiences. The government should extend prompt help to the unfortute victims of Wednesday’s fire but only on condition that each recipient of help agrees to abide by the new building bye-laws and by all the safety and regulatory laws of the land that attempt to make living a little safer than it is now.