Fire Safety: Delhi HC Orders Joint Committee to Inspect Nursing Homes

Fire Safety

The Delhi High Court, emphasizing that the safety of people, staff, and patients is of utmost importance, has directed the authorities to form a joint committee to inspect several nursing homes in the city for compliance with fire safety norms.

A single bench of Justice Sanjeev Narula also requested that the sub-committee established by the Delhi government in 2019, which was tasked with reviewing the status of nursing homes in relation to various laws, including fire prevention, “promptly conclude” its deliberations and submit a final report to the court.

In addressing a petition from a nursing homes association, the court considered recent fire incidents and lapses in fire safety compliance. It stressed that the immediate priority is to ensure that basic fire safety equipment is installed in such facilities to protect people.

“The safety of the public, particularly the staff and patients enrolled at the nursing homes, is of paramount importance. Consequently, the court’s immediate priority is to safeguard public safety and ensure that the basic fire safety equipment, as mandated by law, is installed at the premises of private nursing homes,” the court observed.

In the order, the court specified that after the inspection, the committee shall formulate a “comprehensive report” on all non-compliances, except for structural defects, with fire safety norms by the nursing homes. The court requested the report within four weeks from the date of inspection and clarified that the committee, if necessary, shall issue notices to non-compliant nursing homes regarding defaults, suggest alternative remedial measures, and provide a reasonable timeframe to ensure compliance.

The court also stated that the report from the government sub-committee must include “alternative corrective measures” for infrastructural deficiencies in the nursing homes to establish an effective mechanism while safeguarding public interest.

“Given the significance of the issue, especially the ramifications of improper compliance with fire safety regulations, the court requests the sub-committee to promptly conclude its deliberations and submit a final report to the court,” it said, asking the Delhi government counsel to update it on the consultations at the next hearing.

In its petition filed in 2022, the petitioner—Delhi Medical Association—challenged an August 2019 communication issued by the Directorate General of Health Services, which requested the Delhi Fire Service to audit fire safety measures in all private hospitals and nursing homes in Delhi. The petitioner argued that the mandate to obtain a fire safety certificate does not extend to nursing homes operating on ‘mixed-use’ lands in residential areas. It claimed that authorities are erroneously classifying such nursing homes as ‘institutional buildings’ and insisting on a fire safety clearance before renewing their registration.

The Delhi government counsel, however, argued that under applicable rules, institutional buildings over 9 metres high or comprising a ground floor and two upper stories pose a fire risk. Since nursing homes and hospitals are ‘institutional occupancy buildings below 15 metres in height’, they must obtain a fire safety certificate.

The court noted that according to the National Building Code of India, hospitals and nursing homes less than 15 metres in height must be equipped with fire extinguishers, first-aid hose reels, wet risers, yard hydrants, automatic sprinkler systems, manually operated electronic fire alarms, automatic detection and alarm systems, underground static water tanks, and terrace tanks.

The petitioner stated that, in compliance with legal obligations, the nursing homes in its association have provided these amenities. However, their grievance related to infrastructural requirements such as underground water tanks and the broadening of stairways and corridors.

“Notwithstanding the petitioners’ contentions regarding the challenges in implementing infrastructural alterations, in order to assess the prevailing fire safety provisions, the court deems it appropriate to order an inspection of the nursing homes that are part of Petitioner No. 1’s association,” the court opined.

“The recent incidents of fire breakouts in nursing homes, as highlighted by Delhi government counsel Mr. Avishkar Singhvi, have revealed significant lapses in fire safety compliance,” it said.

The matte has been scheduled for further hearing on October 14, 2024.


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