Numaish: Exhibition Society in trouble after 2019 fire mishap

Hyderabad: A Kashmiri trader (unnamed by his choice) stood at his usual stall in Numaish in 2019 surrounded by dry fruits he hoped to sell. Unbeknown to him, a fire had broken out in another stall and it was only a matter of time before it burnt to crisp the almonds, apricots and other nuts he brought along with him.

“Log bole ki short circuit hua tha. Uske baad, aag ne rukne ka naam hi nahi liya,” he told this reporter. (People said it was a short circuit. But after, the fire refused to stop. It just spread.)

This unnamed Kashmiri, incurred losses of Rs 20-25 lakhs. As compensation, the Exhibition Society which conducts Numaish, repaid his rent and then some money. He got back four and a half lakhs.

The name of this trader doesn’t matter. Another Kashmiri narrates a similar story. Both of them are in debt. Both of them make their annual income from Numaish. Both of them suffered after the fire, and then again during COVID-19.

“Abhi bhi karza hain, madam. Iss saal aayenge Numaish ko, inshallah.” (We still have debt madam. We will come to Numaish this year, god willing.)

The current high court case:

In 2021, Aijazuddin Khaja, a local lawyer, filed a Public interest litigation (PIL) in the high court, claiming that the Exhibition Society has not fulfilled all the criteria necessary to conduct Numaish-2022 and as such shouldn’t conduct it as it could result in colossal loss of life if a fire breaks out again.

For context, whenever a huge gathering like Numaish is to be organised in the city, the organisers are supposed to obtain permits from the fire department, the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation, the electricity and pollution boards. It is only after the issuance of a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the said departments that the Numaish exhibition can be conducted.

As Aijazudddin remarks, “Conducting the event without proper permits and no-objection certificates (NOC), is highly negligent. The lack of it in 2019 resulted in the fire and to prevent the same in 2022, the statutory permits for Numaish are necessary. There needs to be three feet distance between two stalls which has to be monitored by the GHMC. The lack of it is what results in fire spreading from one stall to another.”

The lack of permits:

The Exhibition Society’s secretary, Prabha Shankar, informed Siasat.com that the society has applied for all the necessary permits, and that they would obtain those soon. The Society’s counsel in the high court on Tuesday also remarked that they need some time for furnishing details in connection with all the permits for Numaish 2022.

However, the Exhibition Society has been accused of not procuring permits in the past. Dana Kishore, who was the GHMC commissioner in 2019, filed a counter-affidavit, a copy of which has been accessed by Siasat.com, in the high court, stating that the Exhibition Society had not taken up proper permission in 2019 which is a huge cause of concern.

Numaish: Exhibition Society in trouble after 2019 fire mishap
An excerpt from the counter affidavit filed by then GHMC Commissioner Dana Kishore.

The fire in Numaish 2019, was a result of a short circuit in which a lot of traders lost their properties. While no lives were lost, the damage incurred by the traders lingers on to this day. Considering the same, the procurement of permits for Numaish 2022 becomes all the more necessary.

Even if one were to put aside the chances of a fire breaking out, the Exhibition still needs proper permits from the health and hygiene wing of the GHMC, without which it could give way to the spread of communicable diseases, especially in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.

Government Inaction:

At the time of the fire in Numaish, the Exhibition society was run by the then Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) minister Eatala Rajender, who is now in BJP. Currently, the Society is headed by T Harish Rao, the Minister of State for Finance in the Telangana cabinet. While there is a change in leadership, it is unclear what this means for the status of the Exhibition society.

Back in 2019, when the fire broke out, the state administration did not aid any of the victims who lost considerable portions of their property. As the Kashmiri trader remarked, “Home Minister Mahmood Ali came to meet us. But we were not helped in any way. I still owe 4.5 lakh rupees to wholesalers.”

“What is the CM relief fund for if not this? I run my household solely based on the money I make from Numaish. The market in Kashmir is anyway in doldrums,” he added wearily.

With there is hope for Numaish 2022 with the high court’s intervention, the lack of proper arrangements in the past is important to note. It bears proof of the fact that the Exhibition Society in 2019 was literally playing with fire, and as such needs to be kept in check next year.