By I C Naik
A multi-tower Cooperative Housing Society Office-bearers (Jolly Maker-I Cuff Parade) in Mumbai learnt a lesson hard way when the Bombay high court recently turned down their plea to quash a criminal case filed against them by the civic body for lapses in fire safety norms.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) fire department had filed a case against society secretary Pishu Mahtani and others after a fire broke out on the 19th floor of the 25-storey tower on December 2, 2012. Jolly Maker-I is one of the richest housing societies in the city which could ill-afford first class maintenance norms.
The case filed under the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act, is a fairly recent law, not many societies are aware, having tough provisions to punish violators. Jolly Maker- I is reportedly the first major case under the fire safety law, said sources, adding that its progress was expected to be followed keenly by activists and the administration.
Alleging that the fire safety equipment on the premises was “defunct”, the BMC has accused the managing committee of negligence also covered by Section 73 of the M. C. S. Act 1960.
The HC, had stayed the criminal proceedings earlier, but now the Secretary and six others are facing the BMC wrath since the H C dismissed their petition for quashing the proceedings on the ground that they alone cannot be held responsible and that all members should be taken to task for maintenance of the fire safety equipment.
Anita Sekhri, in whose 19th floor flat the fire broke out, supported the BMC’s action against the society’s managing committee for fire safety lapses. It is reported that the water tank reserved for firefighting was converted into a flush tank.
BMC counsel Prakash Naik also pleaded that all the committee members were liable to be prosecuted under Section 73 of Cooperative Societies Act, which stipulates that managing committees are responsible for the negligence in their duty towards the society.
It will be interesting to see how the matter proceeds.