The gutted godown at Cossipore being reconstructed illegally. (Pradip Sanyal)
A commercial establishment razed by fire four months ago is rising back to life, with all the lapses that had led to the September disaster and without the authorities’ consent.
Hardly a surprise in a city where Trinamul functionaries act as middlemen between promoters and elected representatives to facilitate illegal construction, as an undercover probe by The Telegraph had exposed earlier this month.
The September blaze had gutted 50 Lockgate Road, a factory-cum-godown in the middle of a congested neighbourhood in Cossipore. The unit used to manufacture enamel paint and was stocked with inflammable material but lacked safety measures.
Metro saw during a recent visit to the site that reconstruction was in full swing but the civic authorities and the fire department claimed to be in the dark about it. Burnt asbestos sheets have been replaced, walls erected to demarcate enclosures and air-conditioners installed without replacing the old wiring.
“The fire department has not given any permission for reconstruction. In fact, the department lodged a case against the owners and occupiers of the premises soon after the fire…. The reconstruction is illegal,” said Tapan Ghosh, director, state fire and emergency services.
Resistance from local people held up work for a couple of weeks in December. “Re-construction started right after Diwali but was held up for two weeks in December following resistance from residents of the locality. The owners called us back three weeks ago and said work should resume as they had struck a deal with the councillor and the police,” a contractor working at the site said.
Durga Distemper and Zen Pollen, the two occupiers of the premises, refused comment.
When Metro approached local councillor Suman Singh, of the Congress, she passed the buck to the occupiers.
“When they (the occupiers) started rebuilding the place, many residents complained to me that the move was illegal. I approached the occupiers, who said they had received the permission for reconstruction but failed to produce any documents. I have forwarded the residents’ complaint to the civic building department,” Singh said.
An officer of Cossipore police station admitted that residents had complained of illegal construction at 50 Lockgate Road. “But when we inspected the spot, no work was going on,” said the officer.
Several residents, however, alleged that cops had threatened them not to raise voice against the illegal construction.
The fire department, too, has alleged police inaction. “We have received complaints against several illegal commercial establishments. Most have the backing of one political party or other. We have lodged police complaints but no action has been taken,” said a fire department officer.
The officer’s statement echoes what the month-long investigation by this newspaper revealed. Several Trinamul functionaries the reporter had come across promised help to facilitate illegal construction against money.
While a leader in ward 63 demanded Rs 20,000 for two washrooms at a Camac Street highrise, another in Burrabazar asked for Rs 4 lakh to evict tenants before construction could start.