Allahabad High Court: In a case relating to the fire incident on 05.09.2022 at a well-known hotel, namely, Levana Suites, where four human lives were lost and many more are in a critical state, the division bench of Brij Raj Singh and Rakesh Srivastava, JJ. have taken a suo motu cognizance of the various digital and print reports relating to the incident of fire and observed that there is an exigent demand to ensure that such incidents do not occur in the future and issued certain directions.
The Court placed reliance on various newspaper reports and noted that the hotel in question did not even have an approved map, and the hotel was being operated on the basis of a residential map. It has been further noted that the hotel was operating in blatant violation of several fire safety rules, with outdated and inadequate fire safety equipment.
Further, the Court expressed surprise on the fact that, at the time when this unfortunate incident took place that the hotel was in possession of Non-Objection Certificate (NOC) of fire department even, when there was a clear lack of fire escape management system and violation of several fire related safety rules on its part. Further, the hotel was allowed to operate for several years without having proper fire exits in place.
The Court also noted that another fire broke out in a coaching centre, namely, Gravity Classes on 06.09.2022 within a space of a few hours; and that several hotels, coaching centres, hospitals and commercial establishments are operating across the city of Lucknow without validly sanctioned maps and fire safety measures, with total impunity.
The Court observed that “this is a very serious state of affairs, with very wide public health and safety ramifications, and the saddest part is that the loss of life and property was totally avoidable in nature, by mere adherence to the rules and regulations in place by the establishments, and its stricter implementation by the concerned authorities”.
Moreover, the Court viewed that “it is deeply concerning that thousands of residential and commercial establishments are allowed to flout the building and fire safety rules by the relevant authorities, and it is only when a major tragedy such as the said incident takes place, that these authorities wake up from their slumber and start taking proactive steps to seal and demolish such buildings”.
Placing reliance on the decision in M.I. Builders (P) Ltd. v. Radhey Shyam Sahu, (1999) 6 SCC 464, wherein the Court held that unauthorized constructions should be demolished, irrespective of the financial burden imposed upon the wrongdoers. Further, there is an urgent need to bring to book not only the builders flouting the norms, but also the officers who are involved in the raising of such illegal constructions.It further took note of the ruling in Dipak Kumar Mukherjee v. Kolkata Municipal Corpn.,(2013) 5 SCC 336 wherein the Court observed that it is imperative for the concerned public authorities to not only demolish such construction but also impose adequate penalty on the wrongdoer.
Thus, the Court directed the Vice-Chairman of the Lucknow Development Authority to be present before this Court on the next date of listing and directed him the following:
To file an affidavit detailing the number of establishments which are operating without proper building and fire permits in the city of Lucknow.
To bring on record as to how many commercial establishments are doing business without even a commercial map approval.
To ascertain the cases in which permits have not been issued, but illegally obtained.
To bring on record the steps being taken to curb this menace
To file an affidavit stating whether construction activities are being carried out as per approved land use; whether the map is sanctioned in accordance with the rules/ regulation governing the field; whether building completion certificate has been given by the Development Authority; whether the buildings in which commercial activity is being carried out have enough space for the movement of ambulance and fire brigade etc.
To bring on record the action taken, if any, by the authority against the officials found guilty in such cases.
Further, the Court directed the Chief Fire Officer to file his affidavit bringing on record the number of buildings, hospitals and commercial establishments which are operating without valid fire exits and equipment, and to clearly mention the number of NOCs which were found to have been wrongly given, in spite of the absence of proper adherence to the fire safety norms. It also directed the Public Interest Litigation Cell to register a suo motu Public Interest Litigation and requested Senior Advocate Jaideep Narain Mathur, and Advocate Meha Rashmi, to assist the Court in this matter by acting as Amicus Curiae. Moreover, the media was requested to produce relevant material on the basis of which they have reported the matter in the newspapers and the electronic media for the assistance of the Court.
The matter will next be taken up on 22.9.2022.
[In Re: Incidents of Fire at Levana Suites Hotel v. State of U P, 2022 SCC OnLine All 613, decided on 8.9.2022]