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Poor won’t pay firefight fee: Minister

The state government has not yet introduced the system of collecting a fee for extinguishing fires in the city and elsewhere in Bengal. This is because the government has not yet finalised its decision to charge those who can afford to pay.

Fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee told the state Assembly on Monday that the government will not impose a fee on poor people, but plans to charge commercial and business establishments, factories, warehouses and godowns.

Replying to a question by Debaprasad Sarkar of the Suci, Chatterjee said that most fires in Calcutta break out in February-March and the government was not ruling out sabotage behind some of the recent blazes. Chatterjee will consult experts from insurance companies to confirm his doubts.

The minister said his department had instituted five inquiry committees in the past three years to ascertain the cause of fires in several highrises in the city. “Of the five, three committees have already submitted their findings to the state government,” he told the House.

Replying another question made by Sankar Singh and Abdul Mannan of the Congress, Chatterjee said 104 persons had died in fires in the city and elsewhere in Bengal over the past three years. Property and valuables worth Rs 287.48 crore had been damaged in fires during this period, the minister added. Altogether 12,887 incidents of fire had been reported in the city and other parts of Bengal. Apart from these, 266 major fires had broken out in several multi-storeyed buildings in Calcutta and elsewhere in the past three years, he told the House.

Denying criticism from the Opposition benches that the fire department was incapable of handling major blazes, Chatterjee said his men had rescued 16 persons alive from a burning highrise on Strand Road recently. “Two of those rescued were bed-ridden. You (the Opposition) may undermine this achievement, but I think my men have done a good job,” he added.

The minister claimed that the state government has imposed certain restrictions on constructing highrises in the city and the owners of such buildings were asked to make adequate fire-fighting arrangements on their premises. “The highrises that came up after 1996 have followed these norms and the threat of a fire breaking out in these buildings is less than in the buildings constructed earlier,” the minister asserted.

The government often found it difficult to carry out investigations into several cases of fire as the owners and promoters of the buildings had fled the city after the incident, Chatterjee said.

He ruled out sabotage in the fire that gutted Firpo’s market on JL Nehru Road. The government had set up an inquiry committee to ascertain the cause of the fire and the committee report had rejected the sabotage angle.

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