By Ranjeet Jadhav www.mid-day.com
A letter written to MMRDA-MMOPL by the Fire Brigade states that the 10-storey-high station, which may end up delaying the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar Metro corridor, is being constructed in such a location and has been designed in such a way that it may hinder fire fighting operations
The future of the Rs 2,356-crore Versova-Andheri- Ghatkopar (VAG) Metro corridor, which has been under construction since 2008 and has made driving on the Western Express Highway (WEH) a nightmare, may now be in jeopardy. Questions have been raised on the fire safety aspects of four stations on the corridor, especially the proposed WEH station next to the Jogeshwari Flyover, whose 31-metre height — more than a 10-storey building–and location will make it nearly impossible for fire engines to reach the source of the fire, should one erupt. A letter sent to the MMRDA — which is carrying out the construction of the corridor through the Mumbai Metro One Private Limited (MMOPL) consortium – by the fire brigade and a petition filed before the High Court have pointed out these difficulties.
Fire Brigade officials say that MMRDA and MMOPL have only been given a conditional No-Objection Certificate for these stations and they will be inspected again once their construction is over. An MMRDA official said that should the WEH station fail to meet the Fire Brigade’s recommendations and requirements in the inspection, the Authority will either have to demolish it, change its location or lower the height to less than 24 metres, all of which will result in a cost escalation of at least Rs 5-10 crore and a delay of at least nine months. “In case the fire department denies us the final NOC for the WEH station, we will have to shift it ahead by 100-200 meters.
This means that we will have to not only demolish the piers of the present station, but will also need to make changes in the design, which will increase the project cost by Rs 5-10 crore,” he said, on condition of anonymity.
This also bodes ill for motorists on the stretch below the flyover, which leads to Andheri station and is already notorious for its bumper-to-bumper traffic and long traffic jams. Speaking to MiD DAY, Independent Architect Nitin Killawala, who has filed a petition against the Metro project said, “The thing that poses the most danger is that, while constructing the WEH station, MMRDA and MMOPL have not left any open space around it, which will create panic during an emergency. The MMRDA may claim that all fire safety norms will be followed and provisions will be made to ensure that there are no problems but how will the fire engines douse the fire if it takes place on the station, which is at a height of a 10-storey building?”
“The Fire Brigade may be having a ladder of more than 40 feet but even that will be of no use because there is hardly any space under the station for the fire engine to stand. Also, reaching the spot will be a major hurdle as the area under the station is perennially choked with traffic,” he added. Petitioners say all this poses a grave threat to people who will be using the station. “Human lives may be lost if the station is constructed in such a way that fire engines can’t reach the source of the fire,” said a petitioner. These points were also brought to the notice of the honourable High Court during a hearing of the case in December last year. The next hearing is in mid-June.
MMRDA and MMOPL began construction of the elevated metro stations on the VAG corridor in Feb-March 2010. There will be 12 stations on the corridor of which four stations – WEH, Marol, Ghatkopar and Airport Road station – have a height of more than 24 metres, which brings them under the high-rise category and thus, requires the MMRDA and MMOPL to obtain no-objection certificates from the fire brigade. A proposal regarding the permission for constructing the stations from the fire-risk point of view was sent by MMRDA-MMOPL to the Mumbai Fire Brigade in March 2010. The response given by Mumbai Fire Brigade to MMRDA-MMOPL – a letter dated March 8, 2010, a copy of which is in MiD DAY’s possession — states ‘the construction of metro railway stations and via-duct (tracks) of this proposal has already been started without fire permissions from the Chief Fire Officer’s department as per plans.’
The letter clearly states that the VAG Metro corridor weaves, for the most part, through congested areas such as Ghatkopar (West) and Andheri, which leaves marginal space between the stations and via-duct. It states that the metro railway station at WEH is being constructed at a height of 31.506 metres and is passing above the flyover. Since the platforms and via-duct are not accessible to fire engines and other vehicles and considering the traffic congestion on the road below, the via-duct is only accessible aerially from the flyover with help of sladders. ‘It will take considerable time to mount fire fighting and rescue operations, which may result in high life and property loss and chances of immediate exposure fire hazard,’ states the letter. It adds that the fire department can’t expect disciplined evacuation from the via-duct to the station in case of a situation of panic.
Speaking to MiD DAY, Deputy Chief Fire Officer Ramesh Kolkumbe said, “At present, we have only given a conditional NOC to MMRDA and MMOPL for the construction of the metro stations. Once the construction work is complete, we will go and inspect the stations to check whether the fire safety norms have been followed.”
When Kolkumbe was told that a copy of the letter written by Mumbai Fire Brigade to MMOPL in March 2010 states that MMOPL had started construction work on the stations without taking permission from the Fire Department, he said, “It is true that construction of the stations was started without taking permission from us but a proposal was later submitted to us by the MMRDA and MMOPL stating that all fire safety norms recommended by the fire brigade will be followed.” A fire official also said that MMRDA and MMOPL were not taking permission from the fire brigade for the via-duct despite being asked to do so.
Traffic police’s take
Speaking to MiD DAY, Senior Police Inspector (Traffic) R C Patil from Saki Naka said, “Due to the ongoing Metro construction, traffic moves at a snail’s pace between J B Nagar-Marol Naka and Mahalakshmi hotel. Before giving the permission to start construction on this stretch, we had asked MMRDA-MMOPL to provide us with eight wardens at every junction, because of which it has become easy for us to monitor and manage the traffic.” The official also said that the traffic situation will continue to be bad until the entire civil work on the stretch is completed. “MMRDA-MMOPL should complete the work as soon as possible because this stretch is one of the busiest roads in Mumbai. 2,000-2,200 vehicles pass through this stretch every hour, during peak hours,” he added.
“It will take considerable time to mount fire fighting and rescue operations, which may result in high life and property loss and chances of immediate exposure fire hazard,” Letter sent by Fire Brigade to MMRDA-MMOPL in
Costs and deadlines
What is a Fire NOC?
Mumbai’s Chief Fire Officer (CFO) is in charge of issuing the fire department’s NOC. It is compulsory for a developer to obtain this document before construction work commences at any site. The NOC is granted only after the CFO is certain that the satisfactory fire precautions and open spaces are in place at the site.
In connection with the ongoing construction of the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar (VAG) corridor, the fire brigade has issued a conditional NOC for the construction of the station. The station falls under the high-rise category, as it rises to a height of more than 24 metres.
The construction of the 11.07 km-long VAG metro corridor will cost an estimated Rs 2,356 crore. It is the first metro corridor in Mumbai that will ensure easier and faster east-west connectivity.
The actual construction work on the corridor started in the year 2008. According to the MMRDA’s original plans, the corridor was scheduled to be operational by August 2011. However, the official date of completion for the project was revised to August 2012, after a concession agreement was signed between MMRDA and MMOPL.
The project ran into several hurdles, leading to the delay. The MMRDA had to obtain permission from the Western Railway (WR) before initiating construction of a steel bridge that would pass over the Andheri railway lines. Moreover, due to the presence of various underground utility lines passing under the roads on the route, the MMRDA-MMOPL had to revise the layout of the piers on the corridor. The delay in the construction of a cable-stayed bridge over the WEH also considerably held up the project.
Speaking to MiD DAY, MMRDA Joint Project Director Dilip Kawatkar said, “The work on the project is in progress round-the-clock. We are confident of completing the work by March 2012.” Another MMRDA official sounded less optimistic, saying, “I don’t think that the work will be completed by March 2012, because a lot of work needs to be done. The construction of the metro bridge over Andheri station will take at least another year.” MMRDA officials have claimed that around 85 per cent of work on the VAG corridor has been completed. However, petitioner Nitin Killawala said, “The metro construction work will take at least five more years, as civil work at many points is pending. The MMRDA is yet to begin the construction work at around 20 traffic junctions, which fall in the route. With so much work left, how can they claim that the corridor will be completed by March 2012?”
The other side
Justifying MMRDA’s stand, its Joint Project Director Dilip Kawatkar said, “The Metro construction by MMRDA-MMOPL is being carried out after taking all the requisite permissions from the concerned agencies. The stations have been designed with 100-per cent foolproof fire safety norms in mind. NFPA 130, the stringent fire safety norms of the United States which are followed the world over, have been followed in the stations’ construction.
All the permissions were taken from the fire authorities.” When Kawatkar was asked what would happen if the Fire Brigade denies the final NOC to the WEH station and they have to change the location of the station, he said, “I don’t think that such a situation will arise because the project has been planned by experts after taking all such aspects into consideration.”
An official spokesperson from MMOPL said, “The stations have been constructed within the Right Of Way (ROW) provided to us. At some locations where the ROW is very constrained, like Ghatkopar and Andheri, the station fa ade is close to the adjacent structures as we were left with no other option. However, the stations have been designed with 100-per cent foolproof fire safety norms as per NFPA 130. We have also received approval from the fire department for the stations.