Surat Municipal Corporation officials await another Takshashila-like incident

Despite of the devastating Takshashila fire incident that claimed lives of 22 innocent children on May 24, 2019, the Surat Municipal Corporation is yet to make robust policy and safety regulations


SURAT, GUJARAT : Surat, the city known for its diamonds and textiles, is also the fourth fastest growing in the world. However, when it comes to the safety of its citizens from man-made disasters, the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) and the Surat district administration lags far behind. Despite of the devastating Takshashila fire incident that claimed lives of 22 innocent children on May 24, 2019, the SMC is yet to make robust policy and safety regulations to ensure such incidents never happen again.

However, the Rajkot game zone fire incident came as a final wake up call for the civic authorities as they swiftly sealed the game zone, yet, violations of Building Use (BU) and fire safety regulations remain unchecked.

About 28 textile markets located on Ring Road and Sahara Darwaja and more than 900 schools across the city lack the necessary fire No Objection Certificates (NOCs). Despite these glaring lapses, municipal officials revealed that fire safety checks in game zones were only conducted post the Rajkot incident. A detailed report on the actions taken, including those concerning the game zone, was submitted to the High Court on Monday.

The investigation revealed that 5 out of 18 game zones in Surat were operating without BU certificates, prompting scrutiny of the departments responsible for oversight. On June 3, officials are required to present an affidavit to the court detailing the actions taken and future strategies. Deputy Commissioner B.K. Patel indicated that, pending notification from the municipal commissioner, actions may be taken against responsible officers.

The Rajkot tragedy has spurred the Education Department into action, initiating fire safety inspections across 1,650 schools. Teams of Educational Inspectors (EI) and Assistant District Inspectors (ADI) will conduct checks before schools reopen on June 12. Any discovered irregularities will result in punitive measures against both the schools and the inspecting officials. Despite a High Court order in 2021, many schools still lack fire safety compliance, with alarming figures reported across Ahmedabad, Surat, and Vadodara.

The Takshashila fire incident in 2019 had prompted the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) to issue demolition notices to various illegal structures. However, five years on, temporary structures have re-emerged in many areas, with illegal godowns and restaurants proliferating dangerously.

Narendra Pandav, Vice-Chairman of the Light and Fire Department, has called for strict action against officials who allowed these violations. He suggested that the properties of culpable officers be auctioned to compensate the victims’ families of such disasters.

Further compounding the issue, 365 municipal schools, serving 1.80 lakh students, lack complete fire safety measures. According to official Dharmesh Patel, ongoing efforts to enhance fire safety have been slow, hampered by bureaucratic delays.

Municipal Deputy Commissioner B.K. Patel pointed out inconsistencies in how NOCs were issued without BU certificates. A survey on Sunday revealed several game zones operating without BU certificates, while others had obtained necessary permissions through dubious means. This has triggered an investigation into the cross-verification of these certificates.

BJP corporator Narendra Pandav criticized the officials’ negligence, urging for accountability and stringent actions to prevent future tragedies. As schools prepare to reopen on June 13, inspections will be intensified to ensure compliance with safety regulations.

The municipality is also questioning the police’s role in issuing NOCs without proper checks, particularly in multiplexes where the responsibility of providing BU certificates lies with the Central Urban Development Department. Tejas Patel, Executive Engineer of the Rander zone, admitted that no inspections were conducted in the past four months, highlighting systemic neglect.