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United colours of illegal construction
100-hour blaze site still stands tall

Wednesday was just another day for Nandram market as a fire claimed 19 lives in a market that rivalled it in violation of norms, because when it comes to illegal constructions, all political parties are united in their support.

The Supreme Court had declared illegal the top seven of the 13 floors of Nandram, where a fire had raged for over 100 hours destroying 2,000-plus shops.

Four years later, the Brabourne Road market seems ready to go back to business on the upper floors, safety norms be damned.

“We have done up the sixth, seventh and the eighth floors and a few shops have started operating out of these parts. Most of these floors are now occupied by godowns,” said Radha Krishan Sharma, the manager of the building, sitting in his 10th floor office on Wednesday evening.

The traders who operate on the illegal floors seem unperturbed by Mamata Banerjee’s comments after the APC Road fire.

“I have repeatedly said after the Nandram blaze that if required, floors would have to be demolished and there has to be a check on the fire hazard,” she said outside Surya Sen market.The confidence of the traders perhaps stems from her party’s track record.

In May 2008, four months after the 100-hour fire, the high court had dismissed two petitions by Kocchar Plywood Pvt Ltd, the owner of Nandram, and the Nandram Market Tenants and Traders’ Welfare Association and said the CMC could demolish the top seven floors because these were constructed without the civic body’s permission.

After winning the city civic elections in 2010, the Trinamul Congress did nothing to demolish the illegal floors. On the contrary, mayor Sovan Chatterjee had said in November 2010 that the CMC was ready to legalise all the 13 floors provided the fire services and police gave their consent. Later, Chatterjee visited the market with senior officers of the state fire and emergency services department and director-general (building) and declared that it was in good condition and that there was no need to demolish any part of it.

“The demolition could not be carried out because of lack of political will. A section of Left Front leaders and councillors wanted to go slow on the demolition and the other parties joined in,” said a senior CMC official.

Emboldened by the all-party consensus, the traders had started construction on the 12th floor. “But in November 2012, the CMC slammed the brakes. We hope the civic body would give a clearance soon,” said Sharma.

On Wednesday evening, Metro struggled to find anything to suggest the building was in good condition.

The passage to the fire-control enclosure on the ground floor, where the switches to start the pumps are located, are blocked with bales of clothes. On some floors, hose that might be needed to spray water on flames are missing from the hose boxes.

“Things are fine out here. Tools have been procured to fight fire,” said a trader engaged in colouring buttons using an oven on one of the upper floors.

“We should have immediate clearance to run shops across all the floors” said Sunil Kumar Agarwal, assistant secretary, Nandram Market Bachao Committee.