News Flash – 18 February 2020

National News



Lucky Escape for GST Bhavan Staff as Huge Blaze Engulfs Top Floors

Most of what was burnt at the GST office belonged to the audit department on the 9th floor. There was some impact on the section that handled appeals. A senior official said the fire will not impact the state budget, and since there was a central server, which was not in the building, most documents can be recovered.



Mumbai: Hundreds of employees at the department of goods and service tax (GST) office at Mazgaon had a lucky escape as a massive blaze erupted in the highrise on Monday afternoon. The blaze was doused at 3.23pm. No casualties were reported, but an employee, who was trapped on the fifth floor, was rescued by firefighters. A school located opposite the GST Bhavan declared a holiday following the blaze and chaos in the area. GST Bhavan consists of two buildings and the fire engulfed the new 10-storeyed one. Repairs were under way when the blaze started and civic officials said they would check if permission was taken for the same. The fire started on the ninth floor and gutted it completely. Commissioner of state tax of Maharashtra has his office on the eight floor. The blaze spread to the eighth and tenth floors, damaging large portions. Fire brigade officials said firefighting systems, like the underground water tank and hydrants, were functional but inadequate. The fire brigade will serve a notice under Section 6 of the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act, 2006, to the office. “We will check if they were submitting six-monthly compliance reports to the fire brigade,” said an official.



Chief fire officer P S Rahangdale said that they were yet to ascertain the cause of the blaze. “We deployed adequate personnel and machinery. There were four turntable fire ladders, with the tallest being 55 metres, which can reach the topmost floor. Almost 140 fire brigade personnel were on the job. There was a lot of combustible material in the building, so we had to ensure the fire did not spread,” said Rahangdale. Additional municipal commissioner Suresh Kakani, in-charge of the fire brigade, said he did not have information on illegal alterations but it would be investigated later. “Our focus now is to ensure least damage to the structure,” he said. Suman Mane, a Bandra Government Colony resident who worked on the seventh floor, said, “We saw smoke engulfing our building. Someone started shouting and we all rushed down.” Satish Shinde, a peon, said, “We were all engrossed with work when we heard people screaming. We all rushed to safety”. The state government has ordered a probe and deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar has sought a detailed inquiry. Senior officials said the exact data or papers lost is yet to be ascertained.



Fire Kiosks a must for New High-Rises


Kolkata: The state fire services department has made it mandatory for all new high-rises, which are above 45 metres in height or has a floor area of more than 2 lakh square feet, to install a fully functional fire service kiosk within the premises. The rule will also be applicable for education institutions equipped with air-conditioning, basement parking and having an auditorium with a capacity of more than 500 people. While inaugurating a fire service kiosk at Acropolis Mall in south Kolkata on Monday, director general of fire services Jag Mohan stressed on the need of such kiosks at all major Highrises. “We are already giving recommendation for all buildings that are 45m tall and wherever there is a steady footfall. We are issuing this recommendation for quite a few months now. For all the new buildings that are coming up, this clause is included in the fire-safety recommendation. For the existing buildings, the law cannot be applied retrospectively but we are asking them too to set up the kiosks on their premises,” he said. As per the new order, the department is recommending a dedicated kiosk measuring about 100ftX125ft area, preferably located on the ground floor, to be clubbed together with other service areas like security room, fire control room and reception with clear and easy access. “We have seen that during an emergency, local residents and club members are the first to respond and start rescuing people from a fire-trapped place. They often do not have requisite tools, thus hampering the initial fire-fighting process. The fire-service kiosk needs to be equipped with some basic fire-safety tools that are available in a fire tender,” Jag Mohan added.



The kiosk inaugurated at the mall on Monday has CO2 extinguishers, ABC-type extinguishers, ceiling hook, lock cutter, hammer, crowbar, insulated axe, stretcher, smoke hood, torchlight and sand buckets, in addition to inbuilt fire suppression and detection system. Real estate developers have welcomed the move. Nandu Belani, president of the Bengal chapter of Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (Credai-Bengal), said the idea was good as it would give everyone access critical equipment in case of a fire. “No builder will have a problem investing space or resources,” he said. Yashasvi Shroff, director of Alcove Realty, one of the developers in the consortium that built The 42, the tallest building in Kolkata, agreed that nothing was more important or valuable to a builder than life of people inhabiting in a building. “Now all major builders take care of the statutory requirements and take fire-fighting seriously. We will also implement the new rule,” he said. Merlin Group chairman Sushil Mohta said they were even planning to conduct a fire drill for local club members with the councilor’s help to prepare everyone for any emergency situation. Times View: There should be regular checks. But the goal should not be only punitive action; the focus should be on getting all buildings and housing societies to do the needful in their own interest.



International News



China May Delay Annual Congress for Virus Fight; No. of Infected Crosses 70k

A nearly empty terminal at Daxing international airport in Beijing. A CNN report on Monday said that nearly half of China’s population — 780 million people — is living under some form of travel restrictions. From self-quarantines to limits on who can come and go from neighbourhoods has been imposed by various provinces and cities across mainland China including Hubei, Liaoning, Beijing and Shanghai.



Beijing: China said on Monday it may postpone its annual congress in March, its biggest political meeting of the year, as the military dispatched hundreds more medical workers and extra supplies to the city hit hardest by a 2-monthold virus outbreak. Japanese officials, meanwhile, confirmed 99 more people were infected by the new virus aboard the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess, bringing the total to 454. The standing committee for the National People’s Congress said it believes it is necessary to postpone the gathering to give top priority to people’s lives, safety and health, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. It noted that one-third of the 3,000 delegates are provincial and municipal-level cadres with important roles working on the front line of the battle against the epidemic. The standing committee said it would meet on February 24 to further deliberate on a postponement. The meeting is due to start on March 5. Health authorities reported 2,048 new cases of the virus and 105 more deaths. Another 10,844 people have recovered from COVID-19 and have been discharged from hospitals, according to Monday’s figures. The death toll is 1,770.



With fears of the virus spreading further, Chinese and residents of nearby countries and territories have begun hoarding supplies of everything from masks and other personal protective gear to instant noodles, cooking oil and toilet paper. In Hong Kong, local media reported that police had arrested two men and were seeking three others who allegedly stole a load of 60 packs of toilet paper at knifepoint early on Monday. Another 1,200 doctors and nurses from China’s military began arriving in Wuhan on Monday, the latest contingent sent to help shore up the city’s overwhelmed health care system with more than 32,000 additional personnel. Wuhan has accounted for the vast majority of mainland China’s 70,548 cases. Meanwhile, Japan’s health ministry has been carrying out tests on passengers and crew on the Diamond Princess, which is docked in Yokohama. Officials said they on Monday they had confirmed 99 more cases on the ship, bringing the total to 454. The 14-day quarantine for those on the ship was due to end on Wednesday. Outside China, the ship has the largest number of cases of COVID-19.



Suicide Blast Kills 10 in Quetta



Islamabad: At least 10 people were killed and more than 30 injured in a suicide blast on Monday that targeted a police vehicle in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province. Two policemen were also killed in the blast. The blast took place on the city’s Iqbal road in front of the district courts. Tariq Nastoi, a senior police official, said a powerful explosion occurred when the attacker collided his explosive-laden motorcycle with a police van. The vehicle, Nastoi said, was parked to block the road leading to Quetta press club where a protest rally of a religious party, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jammat, was going on. ASWJ is a far-right political party of Sunni Muslims allegedly linked to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a sectarian armed group. The party has been calling for Shia Muslims to be declared “non-Muslim” under Pakistani law since a long time. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack. This was the second attack in Quetta this year.

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