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Sule urges Sitharaman to provide policy incentives for health sector

Urvashi Khona

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Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman

NCP MP Supriya Sule on Monday urged Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to announce policy incentives to encourage investments in the collapsed health sector. Sule in her tweet mentioned how the country is witnessing ‘an unprecedented pandemic’ but the country’s health infrastructure is being exposed as inadequate to tackle the challenge.

In her three-page letter listing 15 policy suggestions, Sule drew Nirmala Sitharaman’s attention to the heart-wrenching scenes witnessed outside hospitals where patients struggle to find beds or are dying gasping for oxygen.

Sule stressed that the Centre could set up an online platform to publish the list of equipment and medicines with specifications and costs, and hospitals could respond with their demands on the same platform and people could make online contributions or place orders through the e-market, she suggested.

She called for GST exemptions to life-saving drugs and medical equipment to encourage their domestic production.

Sule also urged Maharashtra Chief MInister Uddhav Thackeray to craft a fire prevention and control policy. In the backdrop of recent hospital fires in Bhandup and Virar which killed several COVID-19 patients. The NCP MP took to Twitter and posted the letter saying: “The recent incidents of fire in hospitals have resulted in the loss of life and damage to property. Hon. Uddhav Thackeray Ji list of policy suggestions for your perusal is added below like establishing strong institutions and standard protocols; For the prevention and containment of different types of fires and requesting you to set up a Maharashtra Fire Control Force.”

WHAT’S IN THE LETTER?

1. The recent incidents of fire in hospitals at Bhandara and Bhandup, and the Fashion Street Market of Pune Cantonment have resulted in the loss of life and damage to property. Forest fires and fires on standing crops such as sugarcane have become common across the state. Our government must establish strong institutions and standard protocols for the prevention and containment of different types of fires.

2. The Maharashtra Assembly had enacted the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act, 2006 that sets provisions and established institutions to contain the fire. Today each Municipal Corporation / Council and metropolitan regional development authorities have set up their fire brigades for urban and peri-urban areas. There are no fire brigades with Zilha Parishads or Grain Panchayats for rural areas. Forest Department maintains a limited number of firefighting engines to contain forest fires. There is also no standardization in the implementation of fire audit protocols across the state and in the places that have fire brigades, they are understaffed and their officials are poorly trained. The upkeep of equipment is poor due to small budgets and competing priorities in urban local bodies. I urge your government to empower the Director of Fire and raise a Maharashtra State Fire Force.

3. The position of Director of Fire Safety could be upgraded to the rank and scale of a departmental Commissioner and be made a cadre post of the Indian Administrative Service at Junior Administrative Grade. The Director could report to The Secretary to the Government of Maharashtra, Relief & Rehabilitation Department. The Directorate could consist of officials drawn from Departments of Town Planning, Municipal Administration, Rural Development, Accounts & Treasury, and Forest Departments. The Directorate could be given the responsibilities of implementing the unified DCPS Rules concerning fire safety, empanelment of agencies to conduct fire audits, centralized filing of fire audit reports of buildings and industries, collection of annual tariffs that are levied by local bodies for fire safety and creating awareness about fire safety.

Maharashtra Fire Control Force could be headed by an officer of the Indian Police Services Cadre of the rank and scale of Director General of Police by adding more responsibility to the position of DG(Civil Defense). All the Fire Brigades in the state could be brought under his command. A state-level control room could be set up on the lines of 108 Ambulance Service for quick and adequate response in case of fire. The uniformed force could consist of an Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Forest Fires), Inspector General of Police (Industrial Fires), Deputy Inspector General of Police (Training), regional Deputy/ Assistant Inspector Generals of Police in each metropolitan regions, and police ranges. A state cadre of Commandants at the rank and scale of Dy Superintendent of Police and Assistant Commandants at the rank and scale of Police Inspectors could be created first based on the nomination to the new cadre from existing Municipal, Forest and Police Cadres; and over some time through direct recruitment by Maharashtra Public Service Commission. All personnel currently providing fire services in various departments, local bodies, metropolitan or industrial development authorities could all become personnel of this force. Police Patils, Civil Defense, and Gram Suralchsa Dal volunteers could be given basic training and simple firefighting equipment to enable them to immediately respond and also to contain minor fires.

5. The financial resources generated through empanelment fees of agencies authorized to conduct fire safety audits, filing of fire safety audit reports, material certification of fire safety equipment; and cess on fees for building permission, occupancy certificate, and property tax could be used for meeting the capital and operational expenses of Maharashtra Fire Control Force and the Fire Safety Directorate. We could propose to the Union Government to enact policies that mandate compulsory Fire Insurance for certain types of buildings. Once the Maharashtra Fire Control Force is established, we could seek a share in the premiums collected on Fire insurance.

6. Expenses on raising the Maharashtra Fire Control Force would be low as the proposed force would be taking over the manpower and the capital assets of existing Fire Brigades across the state. The proposed posts of All India and State cadres could be created after a cadre review to identify under-utilized positions such that no new positions have to be created & also there is an increase in the utilization of existing officials. Some new positions among the fire-fighters would have to be created to overcome the problems of the non-existence of fire brigades in rural areas and understaffing in various existing fire brigades.

7. Due to climate change, the ambient air temperature has risen and soil moisture has fallen resulting in a marked increase in incidents of fire in forests and standing crops. Maharashtra is a manufacturing hub and such industries have an inherent risk of fare. Centralized forces for specialized services have resulted in marked improvement in such services to the citizens. A state-level organization is better placed to procure the latest technologies and larger equipment and make it available to each part of the state. It would also be in a better position to enforce rules and regulations.

8. The proposed policy on prevention and control of foes would generate several new employments for our youth as firefighters, and spawn several new enterprises in fire audit services & manufacturing of fire safety equipment. In the Baramati Lok Sabha constituency, Kurkumbh MIDC being a chemical hub could attract investments in the manufacturing of fire safety products. 

9. I request you to expeditiously implement this proposal that would systematically prevent loss of lives and damage to property due to fire.

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