Rimpi Saha (right), who suffers from hearing and speech impairment, wails with her uncle at her Sodepur home after mother Ranjana’s death in the fire. Picture by Sanat Kumar Sinha
Calcutta, May 17: Readymade Centre employees and a young man who helped in the rescue efforts today claimed the owners were too busy clearing the cash counter and clothes to worry about the loss of life in the blaze.
Kutu Pal, a local youth who rushed to the spot after hearing about the blaze, said: “Jibonda (owner Jibon Saha) was busy removing garments from the ground floor after clearing the cash from the counter.”
He said: “There was smoke all over. I was trying to spot Rana (Sankar Saha, Jibon’s nephew) as some of the staff members were running upstairs, when I came across Rupa, Jibonda’s younger daughter. She broke down, saying Readymade Centre was gone, even as people struggled for life on the first floor.
“I was shocked. I told her, ‘Rupa, people are dying upstairs and you are bothered about the shop?’”
The Sodepur garment shop’s staff, who spoke on condition of anonymity, were angry that the shutters were rolled down leading to the death of a few colleagues.
“You just can’t keep thinking profit in every breath. They didn’t only pull down the shutters, they slapped locks on them as people struggled inside the hellhole. I just can’t believe that those who worked at the counters beside me are now dead,” said a senior employee, who lives in Sodepur.
He was lucky because he was collecting orders for school uniforms from a private school in Barrackpore when the fire broke out.
“Had the shutters even at one end of the first-floor storeroom been left open, people could have at least jumped out,” he said.
The store was jointly owned by brothers Narayan and Jibon Saha. Some employees said Narayan’s son Sankar and Rupa looked after the cash at the counters on the two floors.
Yesterday, Rupa rushed to the shop as word of the blaze spread and joined her father in removing cash and clothes from the ground floor as people coughed and collapsed on the floor above.
“While Narayan Saha and Sankar remained trapped near the first floor counter, Jibonda made Topu, son of his eldest brother Haralal, remove the garments. It was bizarre,” said another employee.
“We don’t know who has done what, but Jibon Saha and his daughter should be punished. If they are not arrested, we would see to it that they are,” said an employee, waiting in a Barrackpore morgue to collect the body of a colleague.