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Chill no balm for tenants

Sleeping on footpaths, in the bitter cold, wearing clothes lent by neighbours and relatives, constant threats from dharamshala caretakers to evict their families — it’s been a journey from home to hellhole for the tenants of Ludhiana Hosiery Building.

Nearly a fortnight has passed since the devastating fire early on December 21 gutted the building at 171A, MG Road, and four other adjoining ones. However, the dislocated families are yet to get any help from the authorities. Work on clearing the debris of the partly-collapsed building continues, with the stench of cinder emanating from the 150-year-old construction.

“There has been no rehabilitation from the government,” alleged Ram Shankar Modi, one of the tenants. The only help, the tenants claim, was two tanks sent by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC). But they drink the water at their own risk, as the tanks lie in the open.

Of the 40-odd families who lived on rent in the rear portion of the building, most are in dharamshalas, while some have moved in with relatives. But Babulal Dharamshala seems like a haunted house, with no water and electricity. Evening engulfs the building in darkness. Twelve families, who have taken refuge here, depend on candles. “Each candle costs Rs 2 and we need two every evening. In our present state, it is a burden on us,” said Sumitra Sharma. Sumitra and her family initially put up at Haryana Bhavan, but later shifted to the dharamshala. “We have no gas cylinders and kerosene is not easily available,” Sumitra added. “We have to climb three floors with buckets of water from the streets,” she said.

To add to their woes, the families are now being pressured by Babulal Dharamshala’s caretaker to vacate the rooms for the Trinamul Congress’ January 6 rally and Ganga Sagar pilgrims.

“We have nowhere to go if they drive us out,” said Lalita Agarwal. Lalita’s husband, Shiv Kumar Agarwal, is an LIC agent. “All his papers were burnt the night of the fire,” she recollects.

The owners of more than 100 shops and godowns in Ludhiana Hosiery Building are in equally dire straits. Mohan Lal Agarwal, president of 171A MG Road Traders and Tenants Welfare Association, claims the government’s indifference has added to their sufferings.

“We will demand that the government give us the rights to repair the building,” Agarwal said. He claimed a number of trade and merchants’ associations would come forward to help restore the building.

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