Why don't we learn to value life?

December 14, 2011 at 21:00 pm

A massive fire broke out in Kolkata's well known AMRI hospital. Blaze started in the basement of the building and toxic fumes quickly spread to the other floors of the multistoried building, trapping hundreds of people, 93 are reported to be dead. Most patients were suffocated to death, some trapped in their beds, others dying in sleep, too infirm to escape.

In India, why don't we learn to value life? Due to apathy towards safety norms, frequent disasters are bound to happen. We have not learnt from our past mistakes. Our monitoring systems are ineffective too. While AMRI has been warned to clear its basement of hazardous material, no government agency conducted regular spot check to ensure that they complied with the law. When it comes to carrying out regular checks, in order to prevent such disasters, why is no one interested?

First of all, the loss of life of so many people could have been avoided if the insensitive smokers of the hospital, including doctors and staffers, had not turned off the smoke alarms before puffing away and them forgetting about switching them on. It has been detected that some doctors and staffers habitually deactivated the alarms before smoking indoors. Isn't that disgusting?

An international news agency quoted that "medical staff at an Indian hospital abandoned their patients and fled for safety as fire and smoke poured through the building, leaving many patients dead due to smoke inhalation." What a national shame?

Families of patients and witnesses recounted harrowing tales of the incident, saying that the authorities neither woke up to the danger on time nor allowed locals to help rescue trapped victims. Hospital authorities kept giving false promises to them. When the fire broke out why was there no emergency staff on duty? What about the evacuation plan? There was no chain-of -command that could have taken quick decisions during the emergency. While patients suffocated to death, there was no one to give out the basic order of calling the fire brigade. The fire brigade allegedly reached late and was initially ill-equipped - coming without masks, with only rickety manual lifts- to deal with such a disaster. There is shock and anguish over the loss of lives.

The incident clearly shows that the fire was 'absolutely preventable'. Lack of punitive measures against culprits who flout fire safety norms in connivance with the government departments was a major reason behind such incidents.

Now that the tragedy has happened, the law will take its own course. Police has filed a case against the hospital for violating safety procedures. The six directors of the hospital have been arrested. If stringent actions and steps are not taken now, then many more such tragedies will take place in the future. Supreme Court must bring out stringent guidelines to prevent such incidents and should take to task those who are negligent towards them. Perpetrators must be booked for it now. There has to be a fear of law which can act as deterrence. Lackadaisical approach on the part of the government and the judiciary can prove to be fatal.

Shilpi Sharma


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