Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

J&K Has No Fire Safety Act

The Kashmir Monitor makes a frightening revelation - hospitals and other public building may have inoperable fire-fighting equipment. Report followed by an editorial

 JK has no Fire Safety Act

 Firdous Hassan

 Srinagar: While the fire service week is being observed all over the country with much fanfare but the ground reality in Kashmir is far from comforting. Despite the Government claiming to have enough fire stations laden with modern and highly sophisticated equipment yet it seems to have forgotten to implement Fire Safety Act.

In a shocking revelation a senior official at the fire service headquarter Batamallo told The Kashmir Monitor that the Act is not being implemented in the state through which the people could be forced to adopt fire safety measures. Mohammad Rafiq Khan who is working as divisional fire officer at Fire service Headquarters Batamaloo told the Kashmir Monitor, “Here we have enough fire stations and all the modern fire fighting equipment but the problem which lies here is the non-implementation of the fire safety act as it is being observed in other states of country. This act is under process and the matter should be brought into public domain. Here the hospitals, petrol stations, schools don’t have the fire extinguishers and we often advise them about its usage but we can’t force them as this act is not being given preference here.” He said that the non-implementation of the fire safety act is the prime reason for the growing number of fire accidents in the valley. “The locals are selling highly inflammable objects like petrol, LPG openly which should be not done and due to the ignorance of people we often witness many fire related incidents in our state,” Khan added.

Furthermore Khan blamed the Government for not making it mandatory to construct water reservoirs in the newly constructed colonies. These water reservoirs are used as water –refilling stations for the fire fighting vehicles. “Government has set up different colonies in the city but none of them is having any water reservoir. Whenever we face any of such incidents we have to move kilometres to fill our water tanks,” said Khan.

 Playing with Fire

 Making a lot of noise over the fire safety week makes no sense when the situation on the ground across the state is worrisome. While there has been almost negligible implementation of fire safety measures in most of the private as well as public sectors, the major hospitals in Jammu and Kashmir according to a fire safety audit lack proper fire protection putting thousands of lives at risk.

According to the preliminary report prepared by Jammu and Kashmir Fire and Emergency Services last year, the safety measures are “almost negligible” in 157 hospitals, nursing homes and health centres of the state. Among the hospitals reviewed included Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) Soura, Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital, Bone and Joint hospital and SKIMS (Bemina). Besides, nursing homes across the valley have also been found wanting in this regard. Although some of the hospitals are equipped with some fire fighting equipment, it is not enough. Moreover, the electric line makes the hospital vulnerable to accidental fires and more importantly makes fire tendering more difficult.

Last year, Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah had issued instructions to the home department for the fire safety audit of all major hospitals in the state following the fire at Kolkata's AMRI hospital on December 9 that left at least 90 people dead. However, mere audits and fire week celebrations are not going to help. Action needs to be taken as any incident of fire wreaks havoc.

If one visits the prime government hospitals it is common to see the fire extinguishers covered with dusts and not at an operable ready state, no water hydrant points, no sand buckets placed at vantage points, above all one doubts whether the staff of the hospitals are even trained to handle any catastrophe if struck. Even the private hospitals are no behind government hospitals in the safety management regime. And according to report carried by The Kashmir Monitor on Friday, most of the city-based business establishment, hotels and malls do not have the required fire extinguishers. On top of that, most of the people are unaware about the proper usage of the fire extinguishers or fire safety measures.

Besides hospitals and shops, most of the hotels too tell the same story even though there have been a number of fire incidents in the hotels in the recent past. Yet many of the hoteliers in the city have not bothered to install proper fire fighting equipment, while as some do not even have a fire extinguisher. Some of the hotels which happen to have those, few were expired or empty. Even inside the high profile government owned shopping centre, Sangarmal, the lack of fire safety regulations is clearly visible. Even though the complex has an inbuilt fire safety mechanism in the form of sprinkler and fire indicators, according to the shopkeepers at Sangarmal the government is yet to make them operational. Fire accidents have always created havoc in congested areas where even the fire tenders can’t reach. Such kind of problem usually happens in the most congested localities of the old city.

All this calls for extra vigilance and proper care on the part of authorities in the state ensuring that they are well equipped and prepared to cope up with any unfortunate incidents. The people need to be educated about fire safety too. In fact, the awareness should begin from the school level so that incidents of fire are prevented or the damages minimized in case of fires. However, any sort of education would make no sense if there are no fire fighting equipment in place at homes and public places.

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