Delhi HC directs constitution of committee to inspect fire safety compliance in nursing homes

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New Delhi, Jul 8 (PTI) Stating that the safety of people, staff, and patients is of paramount importance, the Delhi High Court has directed the authorities to constitute a joint committee to inspect the city's several nursing homes regarding compliance with fire safety norms.

Justice Sanjeev Narula also requested a sub-committee constituted by the Delhi government in 2019 to review the status of nursing homes with respect to compliance with various laws, including fire prevention, to "promptly conclude" the deliberations and submit a final report to the court.

While dealing with a petition by an association of nursing homes, the court took into account the recent incidents of fire breakouts in nursing homes and lapses in fire safety compliance, saying the immediate priority is to ensure that the basic fire safety equipment is installed in such premises to keep people safe.

"Respondents No. 2 (Directorate General of Health Services, Delhi government) and 3 (Delhi Fire Services) along with Respondent No. 4 – Delhi Development Authority, are directed to constitute a Joint Committee for the inspection of all the nursing houses that are members of Petitioner No. 1, within a period of two weeks from today. The Petitioners shall provide a list of all member-nursing homes to Respondent No. 2," said the court in its order passed on July 3.

"The safety of the public, particularly the staff and patients enrolled at the nursing homes, is of paramount importance. Consequently, the court's immediate priority is to safeguard public safety and ensure that the basic fire safety equipment, as mandated by law, is installed at the premises of private nursing homes," it observed.

In the order, the court stated that after inspection, the committee shall formulate a "comprehensive report" concerning all non-compliances, except for structural defects, with fire safety norms by the nursing homes.

The court sought the report within four weeks from the date of inspection and clarified that the committee shall if required, issue notices to the defiant nursing homes with regards to the defaults and also suggest alternative remedial measures and also give a reasonable time period to ensure compliance.

The court added that the report of the government sub-committee must also contain "alternative corrective measures" for infrastructural deficiencies in the nursing homes so that an effective mechanism can be established while safeguarding the public interest.

"Given the significance of the issue, especially the ramifications of improper compliance with fire safety regulations, the court requests the sub-committee to promptly conclude their deliberations and submit a final report to the court," it said, asking the Delhi government counsel to apprise it of the consultations on the next date of hearing.

In its petition filed in 2022, the petitioner -- Delhi Medical Association -- challenged an August 2019 communication issued by the Directorate General of Health Services requesting Delhi Fire Service to undertake an audit of fire safety measures employed by all private hospitals and nursing homes in Delhi.

The petitioner said it represented the interests of private nursing homes in Delhi and argued that the mandate to obtain a fire safety certificate does not extend to the nursing homes that are being run on ‘mixed-use’ lands in residential areas.

It claimed that the authorities are erroneously considering such nursing homes as ‘institutional buildings’ and insisting on the requirement of a fire safety clearance before renewal of registration.

The Delhi government counsel, on the other hand, said under the applicable rules, institutional buildings with a height of more than 9 metres or comprising of a ground floor and two upper stories are likely to cause a risk of fire, and since nursing homes and hospitals are ‘institutional occupancy buildings below the height of 15 metres', they must obtain a fire safety certificate.

The court noted that under the National Building Code of India, the premises of hospitals and nursing homes with less than 15 metres in height, must be equipped with fire extinguishers, first-aid hose reels, wet rise, yard hydrants, automatic sprinkler systems, manually operated electronic fire alarm, automatic detection and alarm system, underground static water tank and terrace tanks.

The petitioner stated that in compliance with legal obligations, the nursing homes forming a part of its association have provided for these amenities at their premises but their grievance pertained to the infrastructural prescriptions, such as the underground water tanks, and the broadening of the stairways and corridors.

"Notwithstanding the petitioners’ contentions concerning the challenges in implementing infrastructural alterations, in order to assess the prevailing provisions for fire safety, the court deems it apposite to order an inspection of the nursing homes that form part of Petitioner No. 1-association," the court opined.

"The recent incidents of fire breakouts in nursing homes as highlighted by (Delhi government counsel) Mr. (Avishkar) Singhvi, have brought to the fore significant lapses in fire safety compliance," it said.

The matter would be heard next on October 14. PTI ADS RHL