Skip to main content

Gujarat's politician-builder-bureaucrat nexus 'responsible' for Surat tragedy, killing 22

By RK Misra*
Gujarat spent Rs 3,000 crore building the Statue of Unity, the tallest statue in the world, but in Surat 22 students died on May 24 because the fire brigade did not have a ladder to reach the fourth floor of a building in flames. Considered the commercial capital of Gujarat, Surat is the eighth largest city of India. There are almost 14,000 people per km here and the skyline is dotted with multi-storeyed buildings.
Many lack safety standards, leading to the chilling sight of these teenagers jumping to their deaths when a fire engulfed their coaching centre. There was not even a netting to catch them as bystanders clicked the sight on their mobiles, showing the criminal callousness of the government.
Chief minister Vijay Rupani ordered a crackdown and warned that the guilty would not be spared, but it is his government as well as those of his predecessors, Narendra Modi and Keshubhai Patel, who are in the dock. A perturbed National Human Rights Commission(NHRC) has suo motu taken cognizance of the Surat tragedy and sought a detailed report from the state government within four weeks. It could well make a beginning by asking why the 36,000 government schools in the state lack basic fire safety systems endangering the lives of 75 lakh students.
It goes to the credit of the Gujarat High Court that the Gujarat Fire Prevention and the Life Safety Measures Act, 2013 came into being. Thereafter, the Gujarat Fire Services Authority was created and remains to this day an impotent, toothless tiger. One can count the staff there on one’s finger tips and none of them is permanent.
The Authority has no equipment or manpower, no power to purchase equipment, nor is it in a position to issue any orders. “The Authority, for all practical purposes, remains defunct,” said advocate Amit Panchal who has been relentlessly crusading in court in this regard.
The state government had promised the High Court in 2015 that it would fill up the vacancies in the fire services, but to no avail. The contempt petition to force the government to instill life into this Authority has been pending for four years and is slated to come up before the High Court on August 28.
As if this was not enough, the government has been regularising a rash of illegal buildings statewide on payment of a nominal impact fee. The first such regularisation was done by the Keshubhai Patel-led BJP government in 2000. It had given a binding to the High Court that it would be a one-time exception, though the date kept being extended.
Aimed at the urban vote-bank, it was now the turn of then Chief Minister Narendra Modi to get the assembly to pass the Gujarat Regularisation of Unauthorised Development Act, 2011, with provisions to regularise illegal constructions by recovering an impact fee. Though Panchal challenged the Act on behalf of his client, the extension of deadlines for the paid regularisation continued till well after Modi left for Delhi. The Act was passed with the 2012 assembly elections in mind.
In 2011, an estimated 25 lakh illegal constructions existed in Gujarat. Eight years on, the numbers would be much higher. Again, under chief minister Vijay Rupani, the government got the Gujarat Land Revenue (Amendment) Bill, 2017 passed. By education minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasma’s own admission, this was being done to regularise seven lakh properties built on agricultural land on payment of prevalent fees.
It is such illegality that has encouraged the politician-builder-bureaucrat nexus to play havoc with people’s lives. Incidentally, the Takshshila Arcade in Surat, where 22 students, including 18 girls, lost their lives has an interesting history. The illegal structure was regularised by paying impact fees during the tenure of MK Das, the present principal secretary to the chief minister, when he was the municipal commissioner of Surat.

Das has, however, gone on record to state that the municipal commissioner has no role to play in the regularisation as the powers in this regard are delegated to the deputy municipal commissioner, zonal officers and the executive engineer. The building in question was regularised in 2013.
In view of the largescale illegal commercial and residential structures in Surat, it is no surprise that it fuels a black money economy of gargantuan proportions. It comes as no surprise that CR Patil, the BJP MP from Navsari near Surat who was recently re-elected with a record margin, had in March 2017 shot off a letter to the Surat Municipal Corporation asking it not to respond to RTI queries and in fact, to blacklist those who kept seeking information repeatedly. Interestingly, the bulk of the RTIs in Surat pertain to information about illegal constructions.
It was a disaster in the making. In 2001, the Surat Urban Development Authority had approved a residential society on this land, but a wholly illegal commercial shopping centre was constructed there in 2007. From 2012-13, two floors were regularised under the 2011 laws, while the third floor was built illegally and the fourth floor came up on what was a terrace.
Sporting flex banners with tyres for seating, students seeking admission to architectural and design institutes took coaching here. The place was a virtual tinder box waiting to explode.
The government never learns its lessons. Just six months ago on November 26, two children died in a fire in a coaching centre in Vesu, Surat. Chudasma was quick to state that coaching centres would soon be asked to seek prior permission before starting. Nothing happened. On January 30, a major fire broke out in a building housing a coaching class in Jivraj Park, Ahmedabad.
A foam mattress shop on the ground floor caught fire and 27 students were trapped but later rescued by fire fighters. Until the fire on May 24, not a soul had stirred in the education department and the minister shifted blame to the municipal corporation.
In fact, the sheer callousness of the state government can be seen from the fact that its 36,000 schools lack basic fire safety systems, putting the lives of 75 lakh students at risk.
With chilling pictures of students jumping to their deaths shaking the soul of India and politicians reacting quickly, the corruption-mired administration has been forced to get off its haunches and go into overdrive.
All coaching classes, including hobby classes, pre-school and nursery classes all over the state have been ordered shut. As no permission was required to start these classes, there is no record of their numbers. A back of the envelope calculation would put their figure at 10,000 in Ahmedabad alone.
All such classes have now been ordered to seek an approval from both the municipal corporation as well as the police commissioner in key cities and corresponding authorities in smaller towns. In Ahmedabad, where the municipal corporation had ignored a list of some 350 unsafe classes submitted by the district education officer in January, action has now begun.
Rupani has ordered a fire safety audit of all commercial buildings but if only everyone had done their job, 22 young lives would not have been so brutally snuffed out !.
---
*Senior journalist based in Gujarat. Blog: http://wordsmithsandnewsplumbers.blogspot.com/

Comments

Vinod Chand said…
Tell me something new.

TRENDING

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Gyanvapi case: Use of 'illegal' lawfare to keep the communal pot simmering

By Venkatesh Narayanan, Bobby Ramakant, Manoj Sarang* With a steady drumbeat of bad news for the lives of ordinary citizens --  inflation at a multi-year high , rupee at an all-time low , negative job creation and when all forward indicators as seen by industry leaders point to recessionary clouds on the horizon , what’s a serially-incompetent government to do?  Dust out their time-tested-citizen-distraction playbook. The Gyanvapi-Masjid case is all of this -- as a weapon of mass distraction. This zeitgeist of our times is best captured by a recent opinion piece : "The idea is to keep the pot on a perpetual boil, simmering at the top, whirling feverishly beneath. A restless society forever living precariously on the precipice arouses distrst, uneasiness, fear and discomfort, That is a toxic panoply for manufacturing rage, which can then be effortlessly mobilized at short notice. BJP is creating an eco-system of real-time instant delivery of hate-mongers. That is how we are sudde

Upholding labour rights, Nehruvian scientific temper, Rajni Patel opposed Emergency

By Harsh Thakor*  Rajni Patel, who died 40 years ago, whatever his flaws, had one great quality: his human touch to offer selfless service and ability to galvanise or influence human beings from all walks of life. Few people would ever go out of the way to help someone or serve as selflessly without aim of personal gain. Rajni championed Nehruvian secular ideas and scientific temper. As a master in public relations he revealed utmost humility. As a barrister, he never appeared against the trade unions or workers. A Fabien Socialist he opposed liberal capitalism and radical socialism. Unlike most lawyers, he did not succumb to the lure of amassing wealth. Rajni was born in Sirsa, in Gujarat, on the very day Gandhi set foot on Indian soil, on 9th January, 1915. He gained his baptism through one of Gandhi's speeches calling for the boycott of foreign goods, which was the virtual turning point of his life. Rajni toed Gandhi to organise boycott of foreign goods. Rajni was able to cros

Targeting mosques, churches: 'Roadmap' for 2025, RSS' centenary year?

416 years old Our Lady of Health Church, Sancoale, Goa  By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*  Fascists use manipulative strategies aimed at whipping up sympathy and support from the majority community, to which they normally ‘belong’. They do so in a variety of insidious and subtle ways. In the past few months, they have gone overboard in their efforts to denigrate and demonize minorities in India, particularly Muslims and Christians. They have spewed hate and divisiveness through their venomous speeches; incited people to violence and have effectively used officialdom to further their vested interests. The results are there for all to see: greater polarisation of the majority community in a country which prided itself for its pluralism and diversity. Their meticulously planned agenda is in order to gain absolute power of the country in the 2024 national elections. More so it is also a roadmap towards 2025 when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) will complete one hundred years of its existence.

Vadodara violence: Fine Arts Faculty alumni raise fingers at Varsity's political appointee

Hasmukh Vaghela with PM Counterview Desk  In a statement, alumni of the Faculty of Fine Arts (FoFA), Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU), Baroda, Gujarat, referring to the “violence” by right-wing groups for displaying “objectionable” paintings that “hurt religious sentiments” at the one of India’s top fine arts institute May 5, have taken strong exception to “the assault and rustication” of one of the students, and lack of action taken against those who “violated” the institution and committed the act. Floated as an online petition seeking wider support, the FoFA alumni, in their statement, addressed to the vice chancellor, MSU, said, there should be “thorough” investigation in the whole incident and “immediate action” should be taken against syndicate member Hasmukh Vaghela, MSU, who sparked the assault, and “other co-conspirators” for breaching “university code of conduct and unlawful activities committed in broad daylight”. While the alumni statement doesn't say so, Vaghela

This varsity succumbed to extra-academic mobocracy, 'ignored' Hindutva archives

By Shamsul Islam* Open letter to Sharda University vice-chancellor Sub: Discarding a Question on Linkages of Hindutva with Nazism/Fascism is blatant Academic Dishonesty! Dear Professor Sibaram Khara Saheb, Namaskaar! According to your esteemed University’s portal: “The name of University, 'Sharda' is synonymous to 'Goddess of knowledge and learning-Saraswati'. She is identified with 'veena', an Indian musical instrument and the ‘lotus’, where she resides. The lotus in our logo symbolizes the seat of learning that the University is created for.  "Variety of colours signify the variety of disciplines the university offers and the overlap between petals creating new colours demonstrate the ethos of collaboration between students and teachers of different programme, nationality, creed and colour working towards creating new knowledge…the University's cherished mission to provide education beyond boundaries and to facilitate the students and faculty to achie

Examples of support to Hindu temples, scriptures, saints by 'Muslim' rulers galore

Siya Ram coin issued by Akbar By Bharat Dogra* At a time when the country as well as the world are passing through very difficult times leading to more urgent need for strengthening national unity for meeting several big challenges ahead, unfortunately disputes relating to religious places have been allowed to raise their ugly head once again. It is well-realized by now by many people that it is not historical facts but narrow considerations of political gain and spreading of fanatic ideas of intolerance which are behind such mischief, but due to the increasing threat of mob violence and patronage available at higher levels to groups spreading intolerance many people are reluctant to openly and fearlessly express their views. Hence there is urgent need for broad-based peace committees with wider social support to spread the message of communal harmony and to appeal against the dangers of spreading false messages regarding places of worship which can ultimate

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Whither climate goal? Increasing reliance on coal 'likely to worsen' India's power crisis

By Shankar Sharma*  Recent news articles, How to shock-proof India’s power sector and Power minister points finger at states for worsening electricity crisis , have highlighted a few current problems for the ongoing power sector issues as in April 2022. However, there is a lot more to it than a few temporary solutions as indicated in the articles. It should also be emphasised that it is techno-economically impossible to completely shock-proof a highly complex and geographically wide-spread vast power network, such as the one in India, which is only getting more and more complex with the passage of each year due to some irrational policies/ practices in the sector. A business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, wherein more and more of conventional technology power plants, including coal power plants, will be added in the near future, will also necessitate the increased complexity in the integrated national grid, and as a result the instances of power shortage/ disruptions can only escalate for

A former Modi ally, Prashant Kishor wanted to enter Congress 'on contract, as trader'

By Anand Sahay*  The Congress Party and the election campaigns specialist Prashant Kishor, whose company has done strategic communications for a host of political parties across ideology, should both count themselves lucky that they could not reach an agreement for Kishor to join the party. News reports suggest that the Congress rejected Kishor’s terms. This is not wholly unexpected. People join a party because they are attracted to it, and wish to serve it in any capacity that the party may see fit. But that isn’t Kishor at all. He gave the impression of entering into a contract, as a trader might. If news reports are to be believed, he sought freedom to report directly to party chief Sonia Gandhi, and sought untrammeled control over party communications. When such ideas did not find favour, the consultant withdrew. It is clear he has no particular love for the Congress, and its ideas, ideology and politics. In contrast, look at the key personae in G-23. They