The day after a fire broke out in SUM hospital in Bhubaneswar on Monday night claiming 21 lives, newspapers reported that the institution had lost its accreditation two months ago for failing to adhere to fire safety norms.

However, it is hardly an exception. Most private hospitals in Puri, Cuttack and Bhubaneswar do not have fire safety certificates, said the Directorate of Medical Education and Training.

According to a note issued by the department, only three operational private hospitals - Apollo Hospital, Kalinga Hospital and AMRI hospital – out of more than 568 private hospitals and nursing homes meet safety standards.

Fire safety certificates are mandatory for hospitals and clinics in the state that have an intensive care unit.

Many lapses

According to the fire station diary that has been attached to the police complaint against the SUM hospital management, fire officials conducted an audit of the hospital in 2013 and pointed lapses out to hospital management.

According to the first information report filed after Monday’s accident, SUM Hospital failed on at least five safety counts.

The building did not have a terrace tank with a capacity of 25,000 litres for firefighting purposes or an operational sprinkler system. The fire detection system was not working because it had not been integrated into the building systems, as a result of which no alarm went off when the blaze broke out. The building lacked external fire escape stairs, which hindered evacuation. Patients and visitors had to be evacuated through windows after breaking the glass panels.

Finally, even fire hydrants outside the building proved useless since there was no adequate water source on the hospital premises. The fire service water tankers had to be repeatedly sent to the Fire Training Academy to get water to douse the conflagration.

The lapses were brought to the notice of the Bhubaneswar Development Authority and a report given to the owner of SUM hospital. Even the director general of fire services had written to the director of medical education and training in 2015 about the problem.

SUM hospital running despite violations

Despite the lack of precautions against fire and the horrific incident early this week, SUM hospital continues to be operational and continues to admit patients. Only the three wards affected by the major fire have been closed off for the enquiry. Four officials including the medical superintendent of the hospital have been arrested so far.

“How can we close 565 hospitals at one go in the state?” asked Aditya Prasad Padhi, the chief secretary of Odisha in an interview with a television station. “That is something which has to be dealt with properly to ensure compliance.”

Padhi emphasised that the state has clear guidelines for clinical establishments as well as regulations by the Bhubaneswar Development Authority with regards to setting up of fire safety measures in public buildings like hospitals. The problem was implementing the rules that were on paper, he said, adding that the government was making an effort to do so.

But while visiting the site of the accident, Union health minister JP Nadda raised uncomfortable questions. “I don’t understand how a hospital is running without having fire safety clearance," Nadda said. "Secondly this is an empanelled hospital that the government is recommending for the medical treatment. How can it be empanelled after violating the safety rules?”