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SUM Hospital fire: Neither Odisha Govt. nor hospitals serious about compliance with fire safety norms!
On 17th October 2016, a fire broke out at Bhubaneswar's SUM Hospital and eventually took lives of 20 patients and left 100 others injured. Out of the hundred, 30 are in critical condition. It is said that the incident occurred due to electric short circuit in dialysis ward, which then spread to the ICU ward. Some eyewitnesses also said that there was an oxygen cylinder blast, which resulted into the fire.
Investigation has been ordered by the state government to identify the reasons of the fire and fix responsibility on erring staffs/institution.

There was a similar fire incident that took place at Kolkata's AMRI hospital on 9th December, 2011, killing 90 people (86 patients and 4 hospital staffs). That incident should had been an eye opener for all commercial institutions dealing with public and the government authorities.

The severity of the AMRI hospital fire incident alerted Odisha government authorities and a fire safety audit was initiated. In 2013, the fire department assessed that only 3 of 567 hospitals of three prominent cities of Odisha (Cuttack, Bhubaneswar and Puri) are compliant with all the fire safety measures. Rest of the hospitals, including the ill-fated SUM hospital, promised to comply with all the fire safety norms within two/three months.

Thus the Odisha government's fire department fulfilled its responsibility by serving advisories and notices. Thereafter, they never checked whether the hospitals and institutions concerned complied with the fire safety norms or not. The institutions/hospitals too knew that the notices are for documentation only and they too ignored such things.

Now, when twenty lives are lost due to the fire at SUM hospital, everyone has started blaming each other. The fire department has to say that the hospital management didn't comply with the safety norms whereas the hospital management is claiming that they had complied. 

Here, one thing must be noted that in Odisha most of the private institutions- be it hospital or media houses or educational institutions- are exclusively owned either by politicians or people having close links with politicians. Thus the enforcement departments can never compel the institutions to comply with the statutory norms and had to limit themselves to issuing notices and asking them for immediate compliances. No one has courage to shutdown such institutions pending compliance.

It could be witnessed from the fact that on 17th night twenty people got killed due to the fire at SUM hospital, but on 18th, the hospital, including its pediatric department, was functioning normally. Four lower level staff members of the hospital were arrested whereas the top management including the owner of the hospital are not even named in the FIR. That's the power of the hospital owners in the state.

There are no fire escape stairs in the hospital. When the fire broke out, locals thronged there and tried to rescue the patients. But the hospital administration didn't allow the local people to enter the hospital using their influence and power (yes, the hospital owner is very powerful politically and locals have no courage to confront his staff). The fire brigade reached only after 20 minutes of the incident, but by then twenty people were dead.

That means an early rescue operation could have saved many victims who died. I think this could be one reason for which the hospital management should be booked under murder charges.

But, I know nothing is going to happen. The investigation drama will continue for some days and then everybody will forget the issue till another accident happens. You may ask why I am thinking so. But I have my reasons.

Had the government or the authorities concerned been serious, then they could have shut down all such institutions/hospitals, which were not complying with the fire safety norms. No such order has been issued so far and looks there is no intent of doing the same. 

In fact, yesterday, I saw many institutions, with serious flaws in their fire safety provisions, not at all bothered. They are saying that the SUM hospital fire was a rare incident, and there is no need to spend money on preventing such accidents which rarely occur.

I can't blame them because their seriousness is proportional to the government and enforcement department's seriousness. The state government is least worried over such accidents as these are not the issues which cost them politically. As long as one rupee rice and five rupees meal is provided, their vote bank is safe and BJD's rule in Odisha remains unchallenged.

The people of Odisha should go to such hospitals/institutions at their own risk!

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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