In a bid to pinpoint the cause of the huge fire at one of Burrabazar’s landmarks, investigators on Saturday began to rummage through the still- smouldering debris and weigh the possibility of a sabotage.
The sabotage angle has come into play due to circumstantial evidence collected by cops as well as claims by the residents that real estate sharks were eyeing the plot on which the Ludhiana Hosiery Building stands.
“Sabotage is definitely one of the angles we are looking at. We have gathered some evidence and hope to get some more in the next few days,” deputy commissioner of police (central) Zulfiquar Hassan said. Police have started a suo motu case.
According to the fire brigade, the blaze had spread “unusually fast”. According to director of fire services, B.M. Sen, “The fire spread too rapidly.”.
A hunt has been launched on Saturday for the owner of the building, D.K. Agarwal, a Howrah businessman who deals in hosiery and real estate.
Earlier in the afternoon, his brother N.K. Agarwal, a Burrabazar-based trader, was arrested. He claimed to have “no idea” about the whereabouts of his elder brother.
“My brother has taken ill and is currently recuperating in a hospital, the address of which is is not known to me,” Agarwal said while being led away to the police station.
When a police team went to the Agarwals’ Howrah apartment, the place was found locked and neighbours could not offer any leads on the family’s whereabouts. “They left in a hurry last night,” is all they had to say.
Police said several tenants residing in the building for the past few decades have been lately facing threats from unknown callers to “vacate the building or face serious consequences”.
Many of them told the police that what struck them as odd was the time — 11.30 pm — at which D.K. Agarwal left Ludhiana building on Friday night. Known to keep long hours, Agarwal, according to them, would never leave for his Howrah home before two in the morning. “We found this interesting,” an officer said, adding that the information was being verified.
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee, whose former Assembly constituency, Jorabagan, borders on Burrabazar, visited the spot later in the day. He, too, felt that the residents may have a case in regard with the theory of sabotage.
“Arson is quite likely,” the mayor said.
What has flummoxed the police is the exorbitant price that Agarwal paid to buy the building, categorised by civic authorities as “unsafe” nearly two years ago, from a charitable trust.
“Our investigation will look into the strange deal,” said a police officer.
During the course of the day, the fire brigade and the police pinpointed a shop owned by Agarwal, situated on the ground floor of the building, as the source of the fire. “It seems that the fire started from the hosiery wholesale shop,” fire brigade officials said.
“There seems to have been a conspiracy. The tenants were being offered Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh for vacating the building,” alleged Satyanaryan Bajaj, Trinamul Congress MLA from Burrabazar.