New Delhi: These are popular eateries located in the heart of Delhi and all of them have no-objection certificates from the fire department. But how safe are they if a fire breaks out?
Not quite, as an NDTV investigation at ten popular restaurants in central Delhi's Connaught Place found out that blocked exits was a problem that could make these places potential fire traps. It is a problem that Mumbai's fire department too had flagged as a major contributor that led to the chaos and 14 deaths at the two restaurants that caught fire at the Kamala Mills complex last month.
'Lord of the Drinks' says fire hoses, sprinklers, extinguishers and well-marked exits will keep guests safe in case of an emergency. One of the three exits leads to the roof. The fire department approves rooftop exits, but only when they lead to another terrace that provides a way down. At 'Lord of the Drinks', only one shaky ladder is propped up against a wall to offer a way out. It leads to a dead end -- there is no place to walk on the other side of the wall. "This ladder is a temporary one. We will be installing a permanent staircase very soon, said Sangeeta Dutta, a shift manager at the restaurant.
Nearby, at the Flying Saucer QBA, guests trying to exit the second floor onto the roof will find a heavy wooden frame blocking the way to the other terrace. "The frame is to keep out cats, and can be moved easily," was the reply we got.
The fire exit at 'Junkyard Cafe' leads to a dark and badly broken staircase. "The plan to install lights in the stairwell, and that the landlords will fix the staircase as soon as possible," was the response.
When NDTV visited 'Farzi Cafe' last week, the fire exit -- through the kitchen -- was unmarked. On a second visit, four days later, the sign was put up but the cafe refused to allow us into the kitchen because the passage was not clear. They said it would be cleared for an emergency.
Eight of the restaurants NDTV visited did respond to our queries but not on camera, and the respondents there did not wish to be named.
There were temporary obstructions or furniture blocking the exits of 'Pebble Street', 'Townhouse Cafe', 'Barbeque Nation', 'United Coffee House' and 'Vault Cafe'. Asked for their response, each restaurant said the obstruction is "temporary and can easily be removed".
All these restaurants have the fire department's No Objection Certificate, which is based on the following main criteria -- two or more exits, clear exit signs, fire extinguishers and hoses.
The most common violation we found was cluttered or obstructed exits, which may lead to a warning by a fire inspector, but not necessarily a cancelled licence.
"When there is a fire, nobody is going to remember - we had put in a table there or an extra chair there. That time all the owners, the staff, run away to save their own lives," said Neelam Krishnamoorthy, the convenor of the Association of Victims of the Uphaar Tragedy. In 1997, 59 people died and over 100 others were injured after a fire broke out during the screening of the film 'Border'.
"These places should be kept absolutely clear, and the authorities should come down heavily on them if they find that these doors have been obstructed," says Krishnamoorthy, who lost both her children in the tragedy.
One of the restaurants NDTV visited, 'My Bar HQ', received a notice for keeping heavy objects in the stairwell. "The fire department told us so we cleared it, now it's all fine," said Gurbinder Singh, the restaurant's director.
The no objection from the fire department lasts three years but the challenge is to ensure that restaurants abide by rules between the checks. Off camera, fire department officials told NDTV that they lack the manpower to carry out more checks. For 580 establishments across Delhi, they only have 28 officers.