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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Holes plugged, fair set to reopen
- Shutdown helps avert second disaster

Calcutta, Jan. 29: Today's closure came as a blessing in disguise for the organisers of Calcutta Book Fair.

For once, almost all agencies engaged to ensure safety of the country's biggest book fair ' including the fire services, the CESC and the PWD ' got an opportunity to pick on the loopholes and plug them to prevent a re-run of the 1997 disaster that reduced the fair to ashes.

'We noticed some discrepancies and the organisers have been asked to act on it overnight. On Sunday, when the gates open, things should be perfectly in shape. However, I must warn that as the fair is being held on a temporary site, we would be forced to close it if it rains heavily again. Nevertheless, it was good that the entire area was scanned,' said Pratim Chatterjee, the fire services minister.

The weather office said tonight 'the sky is likely to be cloudy' on Sunday.

One of the flaws that surfaced during today's recce was lack of personnel to handle fire extinguishers in case of an emergency. Yesterday, when a spark flashed at the western end of the fair ground, there was no one to use the extinguishers till the organisers called two senior fire service officials who broke open a cylinder and stamped out the fire.

Rattled at this discovery, Chatterjee ' who accompanied chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee during his 45-minute stay at the fair today ' called upon the organisers to arrange for personnel trained to handle the extinguishers and not wait for firemen to arrive. 'We also asked the organisers to ensure that the interiors of every stall are scanned and the cable layouts examined,' Chatterjee said.

While admitting the lapses, the organisers claimed that this year, a company certified by the fire services department was hired for handling the extinguishers. 'We strove to adhere to norms. But it must be admitted that some of the ground contractors entrusted to build the stalls have not delivered well. We have already identified them and will act accordingly,' said Tridib Chatterjee, the secretary of the Publishers and Booksellers Guild, which organises the fair.

Surveys revealed some of the stalls were not done up with saal logs and, at places, the tin roof was not laid properly. Worse still, some of the decorators had not used fire retardant materials in keeping with the directives.

CESC and PWD engineers checked the cable layouts and water connections. An hour before the fair reopens, electrical engineers would conduct another round of checks.

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