Update on Bawana fire

About 1000 families have lost their homes and their belongings in a devastating fire that broke out in Bawana, on the outskirts of Delhi yesterday afternoon. The affected families are those who were arbitrarily denied resettlement when their original slum settlements were demolished 15 years ago and who have ever since been waiting for their claims to resettlement to be acknowledged by a corrupt bureaucratic system. A man and a child have died as a result of burns and injuries inflicted by the fire. 3 children are missing and their families are only facing more harassment by the police authorities. Several have suffered serious burns and injuries, many haven’t received any medical aid till this evening. Some children have also been admitted in Valmiki Hospital for immediate medical attention.

Families reported their clothes, documents, money, rations, tools, shops, cycles and rickshaws, goats and sheep, utensils, electric devices, school books and bags, gifts and other items for their children’s weddings, etc. all being burnt away and how much time and hard work they had spent on building a life again after the last fire that gutted their homes in 2013. Many of the families pointed out that it was the same day of the same month in 2013 that they had been reduced to bare life after the fire broke out. Both times, the cause of the fire is said to be electricity short circuits fueled by the highly inflammable materials used in the homes and gas cylinders in homes bursting in the fire. while other household level services have been denied – such as sewerage, water, waste collection, electricity has reached even the ‘illegal’ hutments because of privatisation of distribution which provides incentives to install meters in every house to raise revenues but not to provide safe services ?

The authorities have also been inefficient in providing fire safety ,especially at the time of such an accident. It took almost two hours for the fire engines to reach after the fire started by when most of the huts had burnt down and that caused a lot of anger amongst the affected families. Many people are frustrated and angry about the lack of any help at the time of the fire accident, immediate relief such as water, tents, medical aid, food, electricity and the negligence of the struggle of these families for land and resettlement.

Why have the authorities failed to provide basic services like fire safety, water, livelihood, sewerage, housing, health services, planned neighbourhoods in resettlement colonies which are created in the process of promising people better homes and better lives. But inadequate policies and lack of political will has left people further marginalised and made them more vulnerable to such threats to their lives.

According to the Master Plan of Delhi 2021,
* There should be a fire post within 3-4 kms radius.
* There should be a fire station within 5-7 kms radius.
* Fire stations should be located so that fire tenders are able to reach ANY disaster site within 3-5 minutes.
* A Disaster Management Centre in each Administrative zone.

Various political parties are coming forward with relief such as food, however the upcoming municipal elections are also affecting the manner in which outreach work is being conducted. The SDM also made arrangements for food but it was only made available for the affected families at 1 am at night. People slept under the open skies with their families around them as no tents had been arranged. While the situation was chaotic in 2013 as people were fighting among themselves due to the lack of adequate tents, clothes, food, etc. , this time it appears to be much worse as none of the relief material has reached people yet. Arrangements were being made to shift all families to a big common tent while families were expressing concerns about leaving their space and belongings out in the open. Members of the affected families demanded that women and children’s safety must be ensured, tents must be arranged in a manner that not more than two families have to share a tent, water and medical aid must be provided to them immediately.

It was clear that the affected families have not yet recovered from the loss they faced in the fire in 2013 and neither have they all received compensation for their losses. Satender Jain, Minister of Urban Development, GNCTD visited the area on the day of the fire disaster and announced a compensation of Rs. 25000 for every affected family.

The affected families also reported a lack of public consultation by politicians and the authorities before taking a decision on the needs and priorities of the affected families.

Throughout the day, some of the questions being raised by affected families and their neighbours are

1. When this compensation will be given to affected families,

2. How many families will be given compensation,

3. Whether they will be compensated adequately for all kinds of loss of life, injuries, homes, sources of livelihood as per provisions that are suitable for the families to establish some normalcy to their lives again.

4. Will relief be provided by authorities such as DUSIB, the SDM, without any further delay

5. Will plots of land be allotted immediately to the affected families by DDA immediately to reduce the vulnerability of the circumstances the families live in ?

6. Will the families be provided with basic services such as water, sanitation, fire safety, etc. before they have to face another such unfortunate day in their lives ?

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