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Monday, March 25, 2013

fire at Connaught Place - the hazard of squatters and encroachment


Insurers rate their products based on risk perception ~ the physical features of a risk are most relevant….. there are pockets of potential hazards where fire-fighting or reaching out to the fire is too difficult, it is not these are far away ~ you can find them in your own locality, in your neighbourhood… but do we really seem to care ?  An Insurance Policy would at best provide financial reimbursement, but there are more that arise out of a loss ~ the loss of business, the injury / death of humans and more……..

A visitor to Delhi would no doubt visit this place and be overawed but he locality.  The area is instantly recognizable on any map of Delhi, being the big circle in the middle with radial roads spreading out in all directions, like spokes on a wheel. Eight separate roads lead out from its inner circle, named Parliament Street and Radial Roads 1 through 7. Twelve different roads lead out from the outer ring; the most well-known of these is Janpath. Its central park has long been a venue for cultural events. As is with many modern day landmarks, prior  to it's construction the area was a ridge, covered with kikar trees inhabited by jackals and wild pigs.

No prizes for guessing ~ it is the Connaught Place;  the regal station of Rajiv Chowk where you have the option to interchange for the Yellow and Blue lines of Metro rail.  Robert Tor Russell, chief architect to the Public Works Department(PWD), Government of India  is credited with its design.  It was named after The Prince Arthur, 1st Duke of Connaught (1850–1942), third son of Queen VictoriaConnaught Place is one of the largest financial, commercial and business centers in Delhi.

A fire blazed in shop in the heart of Delhi and Daily Mail reports that the blaze exposes fire risks ~ not exactly of its physical traits but from the surroundings -  from squatters and illegal parking. The report states that firemen raced against time on Sunday afternoon as illegally parked cars and a row of generator sets prevented them from taking a direct route to a chemist's shop that was in flames in Connaught Place. The obstructions forced them to take a longer way, wasting vital time and causing more damage to the shop. By good luck, the fire did not spread to other shops. However, things could very easily have got out of hand.

A Mail Today survey has revealed how automobile workshops, welders, scrap dealers, tens of small establishments and illegally parked vehicles have eaten into the posh market place, with disastrous consequences like those on Sunday.  Usually, civic officials have turned a blind eye to this. Details of the encroachments were first brought to the notice of the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) by the Supreme Court-appointed Bhure Lal committee a few months ago. The panel had directed the municipal body to prepare a report on all the illegal encroachments in Connaught Place along with an action plan to remove them.


"Encroachment on public land is unacceptable and whenever we get reports about them, we'll inspect the area and if necessary take action," said an NDMC spokesperson. Officials say that 27 establishments were identified in Connaught Place's A and G blocks. Encroachments in these areas were mostly found to be extended sheds, air-conditioning units and enclosures that were used as store rooms.  Following the inspection, notices were given to the establishments in October last year, of which only 11 were complied with. Even though NDMC officials have carried out minor demolition work in the area, Connaught Place has still not been rid of the encroachments and clogged pathways. Senior NDMC officials claim that removing encroachments in Connaught Place is not easy. Some shop owners, who have been sent notices, claim their disputed property to be older than 50 years, for which NDMC has no building records.

Encroachment between the blocks is not the only type of illegal occupation of land in Connaught Place. Hundreds of squatters are seen selling clothes, vegetables and handicrafts on the corridors of CP and in the lane outside Palika Bazaar underground parking.  There is evidently much to be saved from illegally occupying space in one of the most expensive commercial spaces in the world - the fourth highest, according to one survey.  The occupancy cost in Connaught Place is Rs 8,804 per square foot, compared to Rs 8,478 per square foot in Tokyo's central business district, according to an annual survey released recently by global real estate service firm Cushman & Wakefield. The equivalent cost in New York City's Midtown, is Rs 7,002.

This time the fire was not devastating and was brought under control – but there are potent risks waiting to explode… the onus is on the authorities to take timely action and on us to ensure that there is cooperation on all fronts.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

The fire and hazard part is almost entirely reproduced from the Daily Mail UK. Fire damage photos also courtesy www.dailymail.co.uk

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