Even as Ludhiana gains popularity among aspiring students for coaching centres catering to competitive exams like JEE, NEET, and IELTS, their infrastructure remains a cause of concern.
Numerous coaching centres are allegedly operating from illegal and unsafe buildings, putting thousands of lives at risk every day. These centres lack fire safety arrangements, spacious exits, and operate from cramped, dingy structures. The recent fire incident at a multi-storey building housing an IELTS coaching centre and a restaurant highlights the gravity of the situation.
According to reports, some commercial coaching centres in Ludhiana are even being operated from residential areas and homes. Others are situated in congested structures such as shop cum offices (SCOs) or shop cum flats (SCFs), as well as residential buildings in various localities. These centres cater to students of different age groups, including classes 8 and 9, as well as those aspiring to study abroad. Consequently, these institutes remain open throughout the day, from early morning to late evening.
Engineer Kapil Arora, President of the Council of Engineers, Ludhiana, has filed a complaint with Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann and the local bodies department, highlighting the serious building by-law violations committed by owners of these centres.
Pointing out critical technical flaws in many private coaching centres, Arora said, “All such SCOs have very narrow staircases, ranging from 2’6” (0.75m) to 3’3”(1.0m), which is on the lower side. No emergency fire exit is provided in any of the SCOs, and students could get trapped inside in case of a fire incident due to single entry and exit points. Furthermore, there is no open space or courtyard at the backside of these SCOs. The ceiling height is only 2.80m to 3.0m, far below the mandatory requirement of 3.6m for educational institutions as per building bye laws.”
He adds, “Restaurants are present in many SCOs, with pantries found in every second SCO in such markets. The use of LPG cylinders for cooking and other activities increases the risk of fire in these buildings. Additionally, the frontage of almost all SCOs/SCFs has been illegally covered or blocked by hoardings and billboards. In the event of a fire, students will face difficulties in evacuating, potentially leading to fatal incidents. Basements in SCOs/SCFs should only be used for storage purposes, but they are being used to teach students. Other violations include illegal third floors. What’s more, most of these private institutes are not equipped with fire extinguishers.”
Pointing out yet another violation, Arora adds, “The rear of these SCOs is usually fully covered by illegal construction, with no access or exit points. Some buildings have blocked access by fixing wooden boards, and generators have been installed in front of the gate by certain occupants. Naked electrical wires hanging haphazardly pose a fire risk due to sparking or short circuits. These private institutes and commercial buildings have not obtained a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the fire department.”
Arora lamented that authorities too are lax. A case in point: even after the recent major fire incidents and the loss of lives, the fire department has not conducted any fire audits.
Other states, like Bihar, have implemented legislations such as The Bihar Coaching Institute (Control and Regulation) Act, 2010, to regulate institutes.
Following a tragic fire incident in 201 9 where 22 students lost their lives at a coaching institute in Surat, Gujarat, Arora filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, urging action against unsafe centers in Punjab. He expresses his disappointment, stating, “But even after four years, the Punjab government has failed to submit a reply. After the Surat incident, the Ludhiana Municipal Corporation served notices to some coaching centres to obtain fire NOCs, but everything remained on paper.”
An IELTS coaching student from Ludhiana’s Sarabha Nagar market, who wishes to remain anonymous, said his institute is located on the second floor of an illegal building with a narrow staircase that allows only one person to pass at a time. He also expressed concern about the presence of eateries and restaurants on the ground floor, recalling a previous incident of a pressure cooker blast that caused tremors in their classroom. He said there were no fire extinguishers or fire exits, and the generator releases toxic fumes. “When municipal teams conduct raids, the generator sets are quickly removed but return the next day.”
Hirdesh Madan, the owner of Hit Bulls Eye coaching institute specialising in CAT, CLAT, CUCET, and other courses, acknowledges the absence of a common platform or association for coaching institutes to address these issues. He believes that individual institute owners bear the responsibility for ensuring student safety, as the sector lacks organisation and collective discussions on safety concerns.
An unidentified head of an IELTS coaching institute emphasises the profit-driven nature of some institutes, where compromises on infrastructure and facilities are made to save costs. He lamented that often such institutes operate from unsafe and inexpensive locations, including homes, solely focused on maximising profits.
Ashish Pathak, the owner of Personality Plus institute providing IELTS and PTE coaching in Ludhiana, explains the licensing process for IELTS/PTE coaching centers under the Punjab Travel Professional Regulation Rules. However, he points out the emergence of unlicensed institutes, operating even from homes.
Rajnish Wadhwa, the Municipal Town Planner (MTP) and head of Ludhiana MC’s building branch, assures that action is taken against unsafe structures, including coaching centres in the city. He states, “We will check again if any such centre is found violating regulations.”