FPJ Investigation: GBMS School Operates With Forged Fire Safety Certificate

FPJ Investigation: GBMS School Operates With Forged Fire Safety Certificate

Gopi Birla Municipal School operating with NOC issued by non-existent divisional fire officer with forged BMC seals and stamps; principal denies irregularity; says it is sample of a future template

Dharmesh ThakkarUpdated: Friday, March 01, 2024, 10:59 PM IST
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Mumbai: GBMS School Accused Of Operating With Forged Fire Safety Certificate | Representational image

In a major violation of fire safety rules endangering young lives, a prominent south Mumbai school – Gopi Birla Memorial School (GBMS) in Walkeshwar – has been operating with a bogus fire safety certificate purportedly issued by the Mumbai Fire Brigade with forged signatures and seals of a non-existing divisional officer. 

Under the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Amendment Act, it is mandatory for educational institutions to renew their approvals every three years to procure a no-objection certificate from the BMC; a requirement laid down by the civic body in 2017 after the tragic 2004 Kumbakonam school fire in Tamil Nadu in which 94 children were killed.  

Gopi Birla Memorial School

The CBSE affiliated GBMS – run by the Yash Birla group – is notably near the Chief Minister’s official residence Varsha and state guest house Sahyadri at Malabar Hill. Established in 1953 for girls, it became co-educational in 1970, with children of top state and central bureaucrats enrolled here.

An in-depth investigation by the FPJ has revealed that the school management failed to renew the fire safety compliance certificate from the BMC for almost a decade and was last inspected in October 2014 by the Mumbai Fire Brigade. 

Fake officer certifies school

However, on January 26 (public holiday) this year, a non-existent divisional fire officer, Purushottam Jadhav, inspected the school in the presence of principal Madhu Wadke and campus head Veena Shrivastava, issuing the fire safety NOC on February 8. The NOC – bearing bogus stamps and seals – certified that the six-storey campus complies with all fire prevention and safety requirements in accordance with the state Fire Service Rules. 

Denying any irregularities, Wadke said, “As per the latest guidelines of the National Education Policy, we are in the process of updating our documents. The NOC in question was a sample from our internal communication regarding the format of how future certificates would be required. Someone is trying to malign the reputation of our renowned organisation.” She, however, could not explain the forged BMC seals, fire brigade department stamps, and the fake fire officer. 

Management blames the consultant

The school management blamed the consultant for the lapses and produced a safety certificate issued by a private fire equipment supplier empanelled by the Maharashtra Fire Services for installation and maintenance of equipment in schools. 

The authority to grant fire safety certification in Mumbai municipal limits is with the Mumbai Fire Brigade but south Mumbai divisional fire officer Rohan Vasant More denied issuing any compliance certificate to the school. 

Mumbai Fire Brigade chief fire officer (CFO) Ravindra Ambulgekar also confirmed that the certificate obtained by GBMS is fake. “There is no divisional fire officer Purushottam Jadhav and the school should register an FIR with the police. It is the responsibility of the school to verify with the regional station fire officer to ensure proper compliance,” said Ambulgekar. 

According to legal expert Manoj Mirchandani, the fire brigade department has been complacent in enforcing rules in schools, hospitals and commercial establishments. “Such cases can be catastrophic. The fire brigade department must ensure strict audits and inspection of all schools,” he said. 

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