Hyderabad: Fire accidents have become a regular feature in the twin cities and the latest one at the Jubilee Hall on Sunday, has had officials in a tizzy. Officials at the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation’s (GHMC) fire prevention wing admitted that most of the historical structures and monuments have neither fire safety measures in place nor the required no objection certificate.
“The threat of fire is not only to new buildings but also the oldest. Advanced fire safety measures are needed, and in case of historical monuments, at least fire hydrant systems,” said a senior GHMC official on condition of anonymity. Asked about historical buildings, he replied, “as a matter of fact, almost all the historical buildings do not have fire safety norms and the fire NOC.” Sources said a meeting of senior GHMC officials had been convened at the BRKR Bhavan on Monday to chalk out plans to prevent fire accidents at monuments and historical places in the city.
Given the regularity of fire accidents, heritage activists are worried about the possible danger to monuments and heritage buildings. “Old buildings are part of our precious heritage. They can neither be rebuilt nor restored once damaged. Authorities are not even bothered about encroachments around monuments that hinder the approach in case of an emergency,” said P Anuradha Reddy, convenor, INTACH-Hyderabad. She also opined that Jubilee hall was a live museum, a symbol of what the last rulers of the city have left for the present generation. “We, the public, are owners of our heritage. Government is only the present custodian. The way things are done is horrendous, without any aesthetic sense or respect to our heritage,” she said.
Speaking about the accident at the Jubilee Hall that is suspected to have been caused due to short circuit, she questioned, “what is the need to alter these structures with unsuitable additions? These buildings are designed and constructed with ambient natural light, fresh air circulation and ventilation. Engineers cannot undertake repairs of old structures. One needs to hire a conservation artist for better preservation.”
Echoing her views, Vedakumar of Forum for Better Hyderabad, said that historical buildings are not ready to face any fire mishaps nor have any back up plans. Explaining the need for alertness, he said, “Old structures have a lot of wood and are more prone to fire but if they are used for the purpose they were constructed, there is no threat.” According to him, the only way to prevent mishaps at historical buildings was to provide proper plan of action for emergency. “One cannot add fire safety equipment onto these structures. Authorities need to ensure that such places are not overcrowded, and prepare a plan of action,” he suggested.
The talk on the street too is something that authorities would be well advised to listen. “If most of the monuments don't have basic amenities, how can anyone ask for something like fire precautionary measures? Government needs to first clear out encroachments,” opined M Sailakshmi, a history student at OU.
Similarly, a shopkeeper near Nampally wondered, “Isn’t the major fire that took place at the AP High Court complex enough for the authorities to act, or are they waiting for bigger disasters with causalities?”