Cooking in progress in GD and EC markets — over a kerosene wick stove, over LPG burner and on charcoal fire. Pictures by Anindya Shankar Ray
Bidhannagar Municipality has decided that eateries in local markets will not be allowed to cook on the spot. Sellers would have to bring cooked items, which may be heated but not on flames. The decision was taken last Friday at a chairman-in-council meeting and needs to be ratified at the next board of councillors meeting before implementation.
We conducted a survey last December just after the AMRI tragedy along with officials of the fire and emergency services. Apart from hospitals and nursing homes of Salt Lake, the team visited 16 local markets to check their fire safety measures. Our decision is taken on the basis of their report, said civic chairperson Krishna Chakraborty.
The urban development department had built the 16 markets, the oldest being BD, AB-AC, CA markets. Only sweet shops were allowed in block markets when the department had allocated shops. In the agreement it was clearly stated that sweets would be prepared elsewhere. There is no provision of using flames, said Ashesh Mukherjee, chairman-in-council member, Bidhannagar Municipality.
The markets were handed over to the municipality during the last boards tenure. Over the years, many of the sweet shops have been converted to eateries, often after changing hands. Thus open flames came in use. There are around 65 such eateries operating in various block markets of the township.
None of them possess no-objection certificates (NOC) from the fire services department. Neither do they have any fire-fighting equipment. In case of an accident the municipality would be held responsible. So we had to take action, said Anupam Dutta, chairman-in-council in charge of markets.
A senior official of the fire services, who was part of the survey team, said kerosene and LPG were the most common forms of fuel at the shops though some used charcoal too. He also criticised the urban development department for not adhering to fire safety rules while building the markets.
Be it BD, GD, AB-AC, EC or CK markets, the situation is equally unsafe. In FD market, even sweets are being prepared using five-six gas stoves. The passages in the markets are used to hoard goods most of which are combustible, he said.
The eateries could still get an NOC from the department if they apply and follow the suggested measures, he said. But often hotel owners are reluctant to work for the final NOC as they are happy with the primary NOC.
However, the municipality is not ready to allow open flames even if the eateries get NOCs. We want them to use non-flame heating arrangements like microwave oven to heat food, said Dutta.
Debabrata Bhattacharya, president of Bidhannagar Kendriyo Bazaar Byabosay Samiti, slammed the move. Clients will not accept pre-cooked food, especially if it is rice or roti. They will allege that it is stale. If we get such an order we have to decide on our next move, he said.