An early morning fire at an illegally constructed market, a veritable tinder-box stored with plastics, paper and inflammable chemicals took lives of 19 people including a women in the crowed and burstling area of Sealdah in north Kolkata.
Narrow lanes leading up to a 40 years-old multi-storied Surya Sen market with just one exit, dangling electric cables and toxic smokes from chemicals severely hampered fire-fighting and rescue operations and most of the victims’ bodies were charred beyond recognition.
The fire started from the ground floor, destroying 200 shops and then spread to the first floor of the five-storey market complex before 26 fire engines could bring the blaze under control at around noon.
Most of the dead were labourers from neighbouring Bihar and Jharkhand who were sleeping in their shops when the fire, believed to have been triggered by a short-circuit, started at around 3.50 AM, Fire Services minister Javed Khan said.
Many of the floors were built without permission while a dispute between the people claiming to be owners left the basic upkeep of the building neglected.
Following the death of the legal owner of the property, one Nakul Saha, some years back, there was no identifiable legal heir to the property which also led many un-authorised shops to sprung up in an already crowed market, locals have alleged.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee was quick to order an enquiry and compensation of Rs 2 lakh to the kin of those who died and Rs 50,000 to each of the 10 injured person.
This is the third major fire accident in Kolkata in as many years bringing into questions the seriousness of state governments’ earlier announced plans to rein in violators of fire safety norms following the death of 94 patients, many old and under life support, in AMRI Hospital fire in December 2011.
Before that, 24 people, mostly young office executives, died in 2010 at Stephen Court in city’s upmarket Park Street.
An old office building at central Kolkata’s Park Street in 2010, a newly-built hospital in South Kolkata in 2011; a illegal market in Northern part of the city on Wednesday. Who’s next? Kolkatans were heard asking.