Residents outside Stephen Court on Wednesday. Picture by Anindya Shankar Ray
Mahendra Golchha was at Delhi airport when the fire at Stephen Court that claimed his mother and home broke out.
“In the news that was being shown on a television in the airport lounge, my children were asking strangers for help. They eventually managed to come out of the burning building but not my mother,” he recounted.
The floor of his flat in Block II of the Park Street landmark had caved in that day. A year later, his home remains in the same state because repairs cannot be carried out until the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, fire department, the flat owners and other stakeholders concur on the method.
“The longer the delay, the worse the condition of the flat will become. I wish there was better co-ordination between the civic body and the fire department,” said Golchha.
His neighbour, Sanjay Choudhury of Block I, said he had lost count of the number of trips he had made to the offices of various authorities so that he could move back into his flat again.
“I had moved in with friends after the fire and later rented a flat in New Alipore. All my family members and I want is to return home. Our life is in limbo,” said Choudhury.
“Ninety per cent of our belongings are still in Stephen Court. We have permission to visit our flat. So whenever we need something, we go there and bring it. In winter, we got our woollens from Stephen Court and recently returned to put them back there. When there is a wedding in the family, I go there to get my suit. It is very difficult to live like this,” added Choudhury.
The troubles of the past year have made him pessimistic. “I will not be surprised if things remain the same on March 23, 2012.”
The few who have been allowed to move back to their flats in the building are suffering just as much.
“We have no light in the passages, no water and no lift. Life is definitely not normal. And we do not know whom to approach,” said D.K. Bibra, a Block III resident who has returned to Stephen Court.
“So long I had been paying lease rent and service charges to Stephen Court Ltd. Last month, it sent me a letter saying that I should pay the service charges to the block maintenance committee. But there is no such committee,” added Bibra.
Another resident of the same block said she would have left the building if she could.
“I don’t feel safe here anymore. It is very dark in the evening. But both my husband and I are too old to look for another place,” she said.
Officials of Stephen Court Ltd, which is the custodian of the building, were not available for comment.
An official of the civic body blamed “internal problems” among residents for the delay in repairing the building.