Lax Safety Standards Highlighted After Deadly Temple Fire in India

By ASHOK SHARMA | April 13, 2016

Despite visions of India being a developed country with high-tech smart cities, modern roads and high-speed trains, this past weekend’s deadly fire at a Hindu temple shows that the country still suffers from poor safety standards and a pervasive failure to enforce laws.

Officials say pre-dawn fire on Sunday, which killed at least 110 people and injured hundreds more, was started when a spark from an illegal fireworks show ignited a separate stash of fireworks being stored illegally on site.

Shoddy infrastructure, poor upkeep and lax safety standards across the country of 1.25 billion people have led to one deadly disaster after another, from stampedes at overcrowded religious festivals to building collapses in poor neighborhoods. Most of the car crashes that kill more than 110,000 Indians each year are blamed on reckless driving, poorly maintained roads and aging vehicles.

“Maybe the rules are there, but the implementation is very poor. People simply want to have a shortcut,” said Arun K. Attri, an environmental sciences professor at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University who has done research on the dangers of fireworks and called for a ban on them in India.

The temple fire “should open the eyes of people. Religious functions also lead to stampede deaths. That means authorities are not capable of handling a large crowd,” Attri said. “Portraying an image that India is going to become a developed country is meaningless unless and until we sort out these problems.”

Here are some other deadly accidents that have highlighted poor safety practices in India in recent years:

-March 2016: An overpass being built in the eastern city of Kolkata collapses, killing 26 people. Sixty-nine people were pulled out alive.

-February 2016: A massive fire breaks out at an outdoor festival in Mumbai meant to showcase India as a manufacturing destination. The thousands of guests, including politicians, foreign investors and Bollywood stars, escape unhurt, but the incident embarrasses the Indian government.

-December 2013: A fire sweeps through a railway coach on the Bangalore-Nanded Express train, killing 26 in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

-July 2012: A short circuit in a train coach triggers a fire that chars 35 passengers to death along the New Delhi-Chennai Tamil Nadu route.

-September 2008: A stampede breaks out among huge crowds gathered in a Hindu temple in the western state of Rajasthan, killing 225 people.

-January 2005: A fire triggers a stampede in a crowded temple in the western state of Maharashtra. More than 250 people are killed.

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