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Refuge areas are such areas in a building where people can take shelter in case of a fire. These areas are often misused by Developers who surreptitiously convert them into habitable areas. Many Builders are known to sell these areas to buyers who then illegally utilize them as part of their apartments.

May it be commercial or residential; the buildings with the height of nine floors in Mumbai city shall be categorized under high rise buildings. The buildings which fall under high rise category shall have to follow certain building norms and fire safety regulations. Also, the Terrace Floor of the building will be considered as “Refuge Area”

Now a new set of guidelines, which form part of the modified Development Control Rules notified by the State Government, lay down stringent provisions for fire-fighting and curb misuse of these areas by Developers. The Notification has been issued by the State Urban Development Department to streamline building approvals system and prevent Builders from manipulating and misusing certain portions of their towers.

The new Rules stipulate that a Refuge Area will have to be provided at every 7th habitable floor after the first 24 meters of the high rise building. The Refuge Area shall be provided within building line at floor level. In case of high rise buildings having height more than 30 meters, the first Refuge Area shall be provided at 24 meters or 1st habitable floor, whichever is higher. Thereafter, the Refuge Area shall be provided at every 7th habitable floor.

The guidelines stipulates that a Refuge Area will now be restricted to just 4% of the habitable floor area it serves and will be free of Floor Space Index or FSI, the ratio of permissible built up area vis a vis the plot size. If it exceeds 4%, the excess area shall be counted in the FSI. In the past, Municipal Commissioners were notorious to sanction entire floors as Refuge Areas which the Builders would then misuse it for commercial gain. In an upcoming landmark residential tower near Worli Naka, the BMC sanctioned a Refuge Area of 550 sq.ft outside every apartment thereby raising eyebrows about its possible misuse in the future.

For buildings having height up to 70 meters (about 24 floors), as an alternate, Refuge Areas can be provided as reinforced cement concrete (RCC) cantilever projections at the alternate mid-landing level of staircase free of FSI. Each Refuge Area at mid-landing shall have a minimum width of 3 meters and minimum area of 10 sq. meters for residential and 15 sq. meters for non-residential buildings.

Under the new law, in high rise buildings with up to 30 meters height, the terrace floor of the building shall be treated as the refuge area. The Fire Check Floor in a building having height more than 70 meters shall have to be mandatory. It will cover an entire floor at every 70 meters level. However, the height of the Fire Check Floor will not be allowed to be more than 1.8 meters to check its misuse. It will not be used for any purpose and it shall be the responsibility of the owner/occupier to maintain the same, clean and free of encumbrances and encroachments at all times.

The Refuge Area shall have a door which shall be painted or fixed with a sign in luminous paint mentioning "REFUGE AREA". The lift/s shall not be permitted to open into the refuge areas, it said. The rules further stated that refuge areas will be designated exclusively for the use of occupants as temporary shelter and for the use of Fire Brigade Department or any other Organization dealing with fire or other emergencies and also for exercises/drills if conducted by the Fire Brigade Department.