When Will This Stop?

Written by  //  December 9, 2011  //  National Politics  //  7 Comments

I woke up this morning to the news that more than 70 people have been killed in a hospital fire in Kolkata. Given that the AMRI Hospital was one that I have been to a few times and passed on numerous occasions given its location in my neighbourhood, this incident is mind-numbing. The usual reactions have followed: An angry Chief Minister promising the harshest punishment possible, allegations of negligence by the hospital staff, the lack of an evacuation plan and a wanton disregard of existing regulations. To hear this same story, over and over again whenever there is an accident, now makes me sick.

Though the detailed facts are yet to emerge, a few of them are fairly clear: There were 160 patients in the hospital; more than 70 people died, many of them patients, their death was due to a fire at around 3 a.m., caused, in some manner by chemicals illegally stored in the basement, the fire engines were slow to respond, either owing to their own deficiencies or because they were called late and from early visuals, the equipment the firemen seemed to be using were unsophisticated and primitive.  Essentially, more than 70 people died because of a fire that should never have been allowed to happen in the first place.

In the post-mortems to this horrific incident, the obvious questions must be asked: Did the building have an Evacuation Plan in place in the event of a fire? On what basis did the Fire Safety Department issue a clearance to the building? Why was the storage of chemicals in the basement in an illegal manner not detected earlier? Did the hospital staff have adequate training to deal with the outbreak of a fire? Why did it need 70 people to die for the hospital and the relevant regulatory authorities to acknowledge that they were in gross violation of the law?

I have little doubt that now several harsh consequences will follow: the hospital’s license will be revoked, its owners and managing directors jailed and a massive penalty imposed. To the families of the dead and injured, a handsome ex gratia amount will be declared by the government, a solemn promise made that incidents of this nature will not be allowed to happen again, the relevant licensing authority will henceforth be extra vigilant in issuing occupancy certificates and the Fire Safety department will be upgraded with the latest “world-class” equipment so that they can arrive at the scene and control the fire rapidly.

But this is not enough. And the reason this is not enough is neither because the damage has already been done, nor because these measures in themselves have little deterrent effect, but rather because these actions do not strike at the root of the problem and never can. And the root of the problem is this: WE, AS CITIZENS, DO NOT HAVE ANY RESPECT FOR THE LIVES OF OTHERS. It is this lack of respect that is responsible for AMRI not implementing fire safety regulations, well knowing that if a fire broke out in a hospital, it would lead to massive deaths. It is this lack of respect, along with, I am sure, a large degree of corruption, that means that a license was issued by the government despite fire safety measures being woefully inadequate, blithely oblivious to the fatal consequences that may ensue as a result of their actions. It is this lack of respect which is responsible for the fire department never being prepared to do their job, whenever a major fire breaks out, counting on the myopic nature of public memory. And it is this lack of respect which means that once again, in about two weeks’ time, we will forget about this incident and whether anything was done or not as a follow-up, and go back to our petty lives, thankful to God that we or anyone we knew was not affected by this incident.

So the next time you disrespect your fellow citizens by parking in front of a No-Parking sign, think: 70 people may die as a result of my action; the next time you try to jump a queue because you are in a real hurry, think: 70 people may die as a result of my action; the next time you pay a bribe, think: 70 people may die as a result of my action; the next time you forget about an incident of this nature, think: 70 more people may die as a result of my forgetting. And realise that when you do these things, though you may think you are getting your work done faster, in effect all you are doing is completely wrecking the system of governance in India.

The AMRI Hospital fire this morning was not an accident. It was mass murder. Murders for which the AMRI authorities will undoubtedly be punished severely. And perhaps even the relevant municipal authorities as well. But in reality, it will be murders for which we, as ordinary citizens of India, are ultimately responsible. It is our callousness, our willingness to break the rule of law when it suits us, our indifference to others’ breaking the rule of law, our self-centric notion of the country and its governance systems, our sheer disrespect for others, their rights and their needs which allows this sort of incident to happen time and time and time again. If this is mass murder, the AMRI Hospital authorities are unfortunate abettors. We are the prime culprits.

About the Author

Arghya is currently doing the doctorate in law at the University of Oxford. Dithering between academia and litigation for a future career but sanguine in Oxford with his current researcher status.

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7 Comments on "When Will This Stop?"

  1. Ruchira December 9, 2011 at 10:39 am ·

    Thank you for writing this, Arghya. This is a terrible thing. I agree with you completely.

  2. Leeann December 9, 2011 at 4:12 pm ·

    Can’t believe that the beautiful city we recently visited and enjoyed has so much grief and pain. Your article is so well written and so rightly true.

  3. Anuradha Roy December 9, 2011 at 8:34 pm ·

    Powerful scream of disgust…totslly in agreement.

  4. Anuradha Roy December 9, 2011 at 8:34 pm ·

    Powerful scream of disgust…totally in agreement.

  5. Amrita January 2, 2012 at 10:59 am ·

    Very well written. Hope more than 1000 people read this article to share with another 1000 to spread the message and make an effort to make some positive change in everyones’ mindset.

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