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Meerut alert on city sites
- Firemen claim ignorance of safety norms in New Market Parkomat, tighten belt on fairs

The day after the Meerut blaze, the fear of fire in the city stretched from a private air-conditioned tent to a public parking place.

Ready to open as a hi-tech parking plaza before Puja 2006, the New Market Parkomat ran into safety trouble on Tuesday, with the state fire services department questioning the norms followed by the 2.5 million-sq-ft structure.

'We had written to the civic authorities almost two years ago, when construction work had just started on the structure, to adhere to the basic fire safety norms, as is mandatory. Despite several reminders, there was no response,' said Gopal Krishna Bhattacharjee, acting director of the department.

'A few weeks ago, we received a letter from the civic authorities, seeking our views about the fire-safety norms. With construction nearing completion now, we can do little, even if things are not in place,' added Bhattacharjee.

Since 1996, it has been mandatory to obtain the necessary clearance from the fire services department before starting work on structures such as highrises, markets and malls.

Fire department officials claimed they were in the dark about steps taken to ensure fire safety of the underground complex.

'We're not sure about some of the basics at Parkomat, like whether there is an underground reservoir, adequate arrangement for ventilation, smoke exhaust and if the air-conditioning ducts are fitted with fire dampers. Who will take responsibility in case there is a fire' demanded a senior officer of the department.

Officials of Simplex Projects, the company executing the Parkomat project on BoT basis, resisted the 'unsafe' stamp. 'We have already taken the necessary steps to ensure that fire-safety measures are in place. The plans have also been submitted to the fire services department,' said Gautam Dasgupta of Simplex Projects.

The multi-level automatic underground parking plaza, a brainchild of former mayor Subrata Mukherjee, will have a capacity of parking around 250 cars and also house food stalls and other outlets.

The superstructure of the parking lot will extend up to the crossing of Bertram Street on the west, the crossing of Tottee Lane (beside Globe cinema) on the south and Free School Street on the east.

But the blaze shadow has not fallen on Parkomat alone. Department officials claimed several markets across the city were flouting fire-safety norms.

'We have suggested the setting up of external pipelines at several markets that had come up prior to 1996. But none of them are willing to spend the extra money for fire-fighting,' rued acting director Bhattacharjee, ahead of the Fire Services Week beginning April 14.

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