The fire-ravaged building which housed Surya Sen market. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta
The Surya Sen market tragedy has triggered two routine responses — a do-and-don’t list for traders and a preliminary report on the Wednesday blaze — but the Mamata Banerjee government is yet to fix responsibility for the loss of so many lives.
The report does not admit any laxity on the part of any department, though Writers’ is abuzz with murmurs that proper vigilance by the civic body and the fire department could have prevented the owners from adding an extra mezzanine floor to the Sealdah building or forced them to install proper safety measures.
“The report is just a collation of newspaper articles about the fire. There is no mention of who all were responsible for the tragedy. Even the cause of fire has not yet been identified,” said a senior state government official.
Standing outside the fire-ravaged building on Wednesday morning, Mamata had announced that a committee comprising representatives of the police, fire department, civic body and the disaster management group would conduct a detailed probe to unearth the reasons behind the tragedy.
But the report submitted by the committee to the government on Friday morning lacked specifics, said an official. “It contained details about ownership, the building’s history, blocked passages on the illegal mezzanine floor, stacking of combustible materials and the presence of outsiders in the building,” the official said.
The do-and-dont advisory — drawn up at Lalbazar — was sent to all police stations with the instruction that it be immediately distributed.
“Even a tragedy like this failed to evoke a strong action from the government,” said a senior Writers’ official.
“Had the government seriously tried to find out whose lapse had led to the disaster, the civic body and the fire services department would have been more vigilant.... But the problem is government departments are never held accountable…. Only private owners are blamed,” said an official.
In the AMRI tragedy, that took 93 lives, while all members of the owners’ families and other directors were arrested, none of the government representatives on the board took any flak. Laxity of the fire services department, too, remained unnoticed despite the chief minister’s promise of stern action against all offenders.
When Metro tried to find out which departments were responsible for the Surya Sen market tragedy, a passing-the-buck-game started.
Senior fire officials remained evasive when asked whether representatives of the department should have periodically inspected the market or whether the department had warned the other concerned about the poor state of the market.
“I can’t recall immediately whether civic officials were ever informed about the condition of the market,” Gour Prasad Ghosh, director of fire services, told Metro. “I will have to check files.”
Insiders admitted that it was the job of the fire prevention wing of the department to regularly inspect markets and other “high fire-risk” zones to prevent disasters.
“We are severely short of staff…. The rulebook may have several things in it but does it say how to run the show if you are short-staffed?”