It would be a lethal oversimplification to deal with the fire in the Arpit Palace Hotel in the Karol Bagh area of the Capital as a horror story, or an accident. There have been far too many such incidents in cities across the country to justify such benign description. More accurate would be slamming them as evidence of the criminal complicity of the civic authorities who permitted such a mockery to be made of a host of regulatory provisions. As always, the management/ownership of the establishment under focus will be prosecuted, maybe action will follow if there is sufficient public outcry, but the personnel of the local authorities who failed to enforce rules, or were bribed to condone their being flouted, usually get away ~ literally with murder. For that is the truth behind the countless deaths in hotels, hospitals and other public buildings/ facilities: they are the result of criminal negligence which goes unpunished. Has a single municipal commissioner been prosecuted, or a mayor lost an election for such dereliction of duty? Perhaps some political noise will be made ~ that does not mean any reduction of the possibility of recurrence. Dead people do not vote: that remains the grim reality and it matters little which political party was in power at the time: the power was not utilised for public good. That is the fate to which India’s people have been condemned. Their lives count for nothing. A few VIPs may issue condolence messages, perhaps avail of a photo-op, maybe make a promise or two which they will conveniently forget ~ even when another blaze reignites public anger.

What purpose is served by the public being informed that one floor of the Arpit hotel was unauthorised, or that the roof had been “converted” into a restaurant ~ surely that did not happen under the cover of darkness? Does the responsibility of the fire department etc end the day it issues an all-clear certificate? Regular checks are required, and not just to collect the cheques that ensure that the authorities look the other way. The Karol Bagh- Paharganj area now boasts hundreds of hotels in what were originally residential or commercial buildings: fire hazards apart there are no parking facilities, water and electric supply is inadequate, sewage under stress. Nor has the police force been augmented. And what of the high-powered Supreme Court committee on unauthorised constructions? Does it only look at South Delhi? The list of shortcomings is endless. The writ of the union ministry of urban affairs hardly runs beyond the NCT, but governance is not merely a question of law enforcement. The ministry must seek to ensure an upgrade of civic management across the nation, that will certainly improve the quality of life and spare the Prime Minister the embarrassment of having to launch national “missions” for cleanliness, toilets for every household etc. Civic mismanagement is as much a national cancer as agrarian distress. Mr Hardip Puri must inspire his team to higher goals, a brand of diplomacy that has a discernible trickle-down impact.