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After the flames, a flicker of hope
- Rehabilitation signal for tenants

Out of business, staying alive on charity, a loss of around Rs 250 crore annually— a common fate binds the shop-owners and tenants of Firpo’s Market and Ludhiana Hosiery Building. Add to that the name of Satyanarayan Park AC Market.

Firpo’s, on Chowringhee, went up in flames late in the night of April 23, 2002. The Burrabazar building was razed by a fire on December 21. The underground plaza at Satyanarayan Park was damaged by a blaze in April 22, 2003.

The forensic reports indicated that the December fire at 171, Mahatma Gandhi Road had its source “outside”, while the one at Firpo’s was sparked by an electrical fault, fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee disclosed. The rubble has been cleared, the obvious signs of devastation have been set right, but the mood of despondency refuses to lift.

Now, however, there is light at the end of the tunnel for the thousands affected by the three devastating fires of recent times — and those who live under constant fear of sharing the same destiny in other ‘potentially dangerous’ buildings in the city.

The government is drawing up steps for rehabilitation of the affected shop-owners and tenants, and also mooting a Bill against buildings that have been tagged ‘dangerous’ by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC).

The measures were discussed at a high-level meeting recently, attended by state urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya, fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee and other CMC and fire department officials. “Discussions were held on steps to rehabilitate the traders and tenants and on the fate of the buildings,” minister Pratim Chatterjee told Metro.

“The shop-owners of Firpo’s Market and the tenants of 171, Mahatma Gandhi Road, are approaching us every day, seeking rehabilitation. I divert their pleas to the urban development department, as the fire services department cannot do anything in the matter,” Chatterjee said.

In the case of 171, Mahatma Gandhi Road, neither the original owner nor the new owner, who had paid an advance, was traced, the minister said. This had complicated the rehabilitation process even more, he pointed out.

“The CMC will have to take over these buildings. Surprisingly, the civic authorities are keeping silent on the issue. I raised the matter in the meeting and it was decided that the CMC and the municipal affairs department would work together on the takeover,” Chatterjee said. If there were problems regarding rehabilitating the traders, new laws should be drawn up, he felt.

Officials said the meeting also discussed a new Bill on the demolition and takeover of other buildings that have been labelled ‘dangerous’ by the CMC. “However, we also decided that before bringing in the Bills on acquiring and reconstructing these buildings, the issue of rehabilitating those living in them would have to be worked out,” a CMC official said.

Civic officials said the modalities on takeover and demolition were expected to be worked out shortly.

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