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Prison penalty for pandal peril

Fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee said on Monday that Durga Puja organisers in the city and the districts found violating fire-safety norms would face stern action.

Setting an October 9 deadline, Chatterjee said the material for the pandals, like plastic and tarpaulin, would have to be treated with anti-fire chemicals before being used. Errant organisers face a jail term or a fine of Rs 3,000 if caught flouting rules.

“We cannot stop the Pujas, as it is an age-old tradition. But, at the same time, we just cannot allow those violating fire-safety rules to get away,” said the minister, adding: “We will wait till Chaturthi (October 9) and then crack down on the offenders.”

He also made it clear that in case of a fire at a pandal, the punishment will be far more stringent.

Chatterjee said this year, he was worried because a large number of puja organisers were erecting pandals with highly inflammable materials, like jute, dry hyacinth, bidi leaves, crushed sugarcane and poly-vinyl records. “Ever since the trend of awards for the best pandals started, the organisers are getting more daring. But what they do not realise is the safety aspect. It takes just minutes for a pandal to be razed,” he said, adding that a thorough inspection would be carried out by his department after October 9.

Fire brigade employees have been asked to put on hold their vacation plans till Kali Puja. Officials have been asked to keep in touch with the police.

This year, fire engines will be kept ready for emergencies at Muchipara, Behala, Watgunge, Tollygunge, Dum Dum and Lake Town.

Chatterjee said the government was planning to introduce a fee for providing fire-fighting services to corporate houses, highrises, market complexes and other business centres as a step towards generating revenue. A Bill on this is likely to be placed in the Assembly during the next session.

“It is not possible for us to render free services to those who can pay. We have begun an exercise to evolve a formula by which we can bill a corporate house. It may be on the basis of hours of fire-fighting or the manpower involved,” he said, adding that the fire services law needed to be amended, with a number of hotels and market complexes coming up in the city.

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