High rise buildings: Scrutinise the Fire Department’s NOC while taking over from the builder

In our eagerness to occupy our new homes and office spaces in high rise/ multi-storied buildings, we often overlook the fire-safety readiness of the premises, putting at risk, lives and property. This is true for both owners and tenants.

As per the building bye-laws in various states in India, high rise buildings (high rise being defined as ground plus four or more floors) need to get clearance from the state’s Fire Services Department, fulfilling all the conditions laid down by it, before the Occupancy Certificate is issued by the local statutory authority.

It must be noted that the Fire Department’s final No Objection Certificate (Fire NOC) issued will have references to the fire inspector’s first report (referred to as conditional NOC) issued at the time of building sanction and other letters, and all these must be carefully studied by the owners and the owners’ association at the time of taking over the building from the builder.

The conditional NOC is issued before building construction, based on inspection of the builder’s plan. It describes the structural details of the building and indicates changes required, if any. It also mentions various fire safety, fire fighting and fire evacuation measures, along with specific details, that need to be incorporated in the building, for the final NOC to be valid. This would include the following:
– Condition of open spaces
– Structural material
– Design of staircases
– Specification of lifts
– Service ducts/ shafts
– Electric power supply
– Wet rise cum down comer
– Fire detection system
– Fire alarm system
– Fire sprinkler system
– Public address system
– Portable fire extinguishers
– Fire safety plan
– Fire officer
– Training.

A sample of the conditional NOC of an apartment complex in Bangalore can be seen here. (Though several years old, the basic framework remains the same.) The builder had not provided this NOC to the owners’ association at the time of handover in 2005, and it was obtained by them through an RTI application.

More than five years after this apartment complex was certified as occupiable (through issue of OC), the association received a defect report from the Electrical Inspectorate indicating that its cable ducts were not sealed. This was prompted by the fire at Carlton Towers, Bangalore, in Feb 2010.

Sealing of the ducts was an expensive proposition. The association got quotations for various options to do this and was wondering how to finance it. Scrutiny of the provisional NOC revealed two things – (1) the method of sealing the ducts including the material to be used was clearly specified (2) it was the duty of the builder to seal the ducts.

Measures to be taken for duct sealing as per conditional Fire NOC
Measures to be taken for duct sealing as per conditional Fire NOC

Armed with this information, the association was successful in getting the builder to seal the ducts at his cost, several years after hand-over.

The conditional NOC revealed another defect that had gone unnoticed. The portable fire extinguishers provided were without BIS markings. The association got these too replaced by the builder.

In the case of this apartment complex, the owners were fortunate that the builder was responsive and committed to fulfilling his obligations while maintaining his good reputation. This would not often not be the case, so owners and the association need to stay vigilant and ensure fire-safety compliance while occupying/ taking over the building.

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