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100-hr fire fails to nudge trade hubs

The 100-hour Nandram blaze in January 2008 had prompted an inspection of 32 city markets in the central business district by a team comprising police, fire department and civic body representatives. The team handed over to the market managements a long list of “things to do” to prevent a fire. Months after the exercise, a police survey revealed that “only 30-35 per cent” of the measures had been implemented. Metro on Tuesday found that a tragedy was waiting to strike at a few of these markets.

Hookah Patti

Shops lined on either side of the winding lanes in the four-storeyed building at 78 Netaji Subhas Road do brisk business selling hardware, mats and spices — no, they don’t trade in hookahs.

Wires hang dangerously atop and not a single stall has a fire extinguisher. Sand buckets, hydrants and water sprinklers, too, are conspicuous by their absence.

Evacuation during an emergency seems a tall order as the lanes are not wide enough to allow two persons to walk side by side.

“We are living on the edge,” says Shaktipada Dey, who works at an ayurvedic medicine shop on the first floor. “The caretaker only collects the rent and no one talks about any measures to fight a blaze.”

Raja Katra

Raja Katra is one of the several katras, or markets, that has been under the scanner since the Nandram blaze. The shops along the lanes criss-crossing the five-storeyed market at 161 NS Bose Road sell almost anything under the sun — from watermelon seeds to cashew nuts, basmati rice to cottage cheese and even plastic bags.

No firefighting arrangement could be spotted in the near-crumbling structure, where the risk of a devastating blaze has been compounded by the rampant use of chullahs.

The Nandram tragedy has only prompted the market authorities to cover some of the naked wires and install circuit-breakers, a safety device, in the electric meters.

“Most of the safety measures are yet to be implemented. The owners can’t be bothered because they get little as rent. The onus is on us traders,” said Kamal Deb, the secretary of the Raja Katra Byabsayee Samity.

Tripal Patti

Located next to the 13-storeyed Nandram that still stands scarred, Tripal Patti deals exclusively in inflammable tarpaulin without taking the basic fire-safety measures.

As can be seen in the other trade hubs in the vicinity, Tripal Patti does not have any fire extinguisher. Fire-retardant materials are unheard of in the market where the most sighted objects, apart from tarpaulin sheets, are dangling wires.

“Tripal Patti is spread across five addresses and has six to seven landlords. Who will take care of what?” asked Mohammed Asif, a trader.

Nandram

The 2008 fire has done one good — the floors have water sprinklers and a hydrant system. Circuit-breakers have been installed. Sand buckets are missing though and in every corner one can spot heaps of inflammable articles.

Policespeak: “We will revisit the markets soon. Most of the preventive measures are yet to be implemented. Even layouts are unavailable in most cases,” said Banibrata Basu, the special commissioner of police.

Kinsuk Basu

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