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Green Ministry Relaxes Fire Safety Norms for High-Rise Buildings

The Economic Times, New Delhi, 10th June, 2013

The environment ministry has revised fire-safety norms that linked the height of high-rise buildings to the width of streets,yielding to pressure from states and developers who have been citing it as hurdle to urban development.Relaxing guidelines issued last year,the ministry has allowed states to determine the width of roads in accordance with local requirements,as recommended by the Kasturirangan Committee,which was set up in December to look into the representations made by some states.The committee submitted its recommendations late last month.The modified guidelines also require states to ensure that fire service infrastructure is located such that the response time is quick,say,within 10 minutes of the incident in urban areas.

The issues relating to fire-fighting preparedness of high-rise buildings,including width of roads on which such buildings would be permitted,are extremely important and need to be paid by all concerned.At the same time,it is recognised that it may not be practically feasible for all states to follow uniform norms and a flexible approach is called for,given the variation across states and with a given state, the ministry said in an order issued on June 6.

With this revision in norms,the ministrys fire-safety norms for high-rise buildings are now in the nature of an advisory.In February 2012,the ministry had issued guidelines linking the height of a building to the width of the road with a view to improving fire safety of high-rise buildings.As per these norms,a 15-18 m wide road was required for buildings with heights ranging from 15m to 30m.Similarly,buildings 30-45 m high had to be located on roads at least 18m wide,though a 24m wide road was desirable.These parameters were set to ensure that fire trucks have easy access in the event of an emergency.

The guidelines also stipulated the maximum distance from a fire station.The rule set 10 km as the maximum distance between 30-45 m high buildings and a fire station,while for 45-60 m tall structures,it was mandatory to have a fire station twofive km away.These guidelines were prepared by the statutory environment clearance panel,the Expert Advisory Committee,in response to the increased pace of construction of high-rise buildings in urban centres,and a spate of fatal fires.Almost immediately,these guidelines were opposed by states like Kerala,Maharashtra,Uttarakhand and Haryana,besides high-rise project builders and developers.It was argued that such stringent norms interfere with the states ability to develop urban infrastructure,as well as hamper the growth of the realty sector and make it difficult to provide for housing for the poor.Some states and builders also argued that the norms set out in 2012 were impractical for older cities like Mumbai and Delhi,where roads are narrow.Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan had raised the matter with environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan,deputy chairman Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia,and even PM Manmohan Singh.