Redevelopment halts in Mumbai as BMC, fire brigade engage in a blazing row

MUMBAI: A row has broken out between municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta and chief fire officer

P Rahangdhale

over the quantum of area to be left open for fire engines to access a building. The


wants the fire brigade to relax the open space requirement to 6 metres for all plots from the 9 metres it has stipulated.

The stalemate has resulted in Mehta stopping grant of any concession in the access area or the open space in front of a building for a fire engine to enter during a blaze.

Redevelopment of housing societies on private plots has thus come to a standstill, considering that a no objection certificate (NOC) from the fire brigade is mandatory, and without which no commencement certificate (CC) can be issued.

In 2013, in the Kohinoor Mill case, the Supreme Court had ruled that a 9-metre-wide access area is desirable in front of a building so that fire engines can easily manoeuvre to access it. The court, though, mandated that it cannot be less than 6 metres.

Sources said when Development Control Rules 2034 were being framed, every department was asked to submit its suggestions. The fire brigade recommended 9 metres for access, except in case of redevelopment of Mhada, SRA and cessed buildings where it allowed six metres. It was indicated that the fire brigade consider 6 metres even for private plots but it stuck to its stand.

After the DCR 2034 came into force, Mehta refused to grant concessions to private plots to reduce the open space requirement from 9 metres to 6 metres, pointing out that the rules had been framed after detailed discussions.

“Fire safety norms are paramount and there can be no compromise. I have asked the fire department to now work out guidelines where the 9-metre requirement can be reduced to 6 without compromising on fire norms. That is non-negotiable,” said Mehta.

Sources said granting concessions is a “very lucrative business” and only those with influence can get it. “Mhada, SRA and cessed buildings have high density of habitation and yet they have been allowed 6-metre access whereas most societies do not have as many residents but have not being given this facility,” they said.

Yomesh Rao, member, Practising Engineers, Architects and Town Planners Association (PEATA), said housing plots have a width of 18 metres and if 9 metres in front is taken away for fire engine access and 3.6 metres on the side there is very little space left for redevelopment. “Most buildings will not be able to consume the entire floor space index that they are entitled to for redevelopment,” he said.

Architect Vilas Nagalkar said the rules allow the 9-metre requirement to be waived off only if a plot abuts two roads that are at least 30 feet wide. “These are corner plots; there are very few such plots in the city. The BMC should have framed a policy prior to the rules being published showing pictorially the cases in which the 9-metre requirement can be waived. Then there would have been no conflict,” he said. PEATA is preparing drawings to make a presentation to the fire department for instances in which the waiver can be applied.

Mehta said the fire department is working on building designs such as putting the refuge area in front so that the 6-metre access can be allowed.

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