Ghastly hospital fires

The disregard for safety measures is the spark for the alarming regularity with which blazes break out in our buildings, asphyxiating many and crippling others with burns. The latest victims of this fatal failure, unfortunately, are 10 newborn babies at the special unit of Bhandara General Hospital in Maharashtra. This is the fourth such tragedy to strike in quick succession. August 2020 saw the loss of lives of eight Covid patients as a fire raged through a hospital in Ahmedabad, followed by similar deaths of 10 Covid-infected in a makeshift healthcare facility of Vijayawada. Then, five victims of the novel coronavirus perished in November in a Rajkot clinic.

One can recount many more such gruesome incidents reported over the years. But what is more shameful is the utter failure to improve and regulate the state of affairs despite the ghastly frequency of fire mishaps. Each heartbreaking tragedy leads to a familiar cold pattern: condolence messages of politicos, blame game, investigations, announcement of a meagre compensation for the victims (notwithstanding the fact that treating burn injuries is a long and costly affair) or their kin. Then, as the victims are more or less left to fend for themselves, it is business as usual. With probes and trials going on at a snail’s pace, public attention — and pressure — sadly fails to sustain. Outrage erupts again during the next mishap.

With all-round apathy prevailing, most buildings are hazardous tinderboxes. India finds itself accounting for one in every five serious fire accidents of the world, as per the Global Disease Burden Study of 2017. Strict and swift action against those guilty of violating building safety protocols can bring down the toll of the tragic loss of precious lives. All concerned — builders, hospital managements, civic and fire authorities, approvers and auditors — fall in the net of culpability. Efforts to provide a sizeable insurance cover to the vulnerable patients must also be stepped up so that they are given a dignified and fighting chance for justice.

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