Calcutta has one terrible distinction. It keeps repeating history, not as farce but always as tragedy. And fires are one of its favourite instruments of tragedy fires and illegal constructions. The fire in Surya Sen Market near Sealdah station in the early hours of Thursday last ultimately killed 21 people sleeping in a mezzanine floor about which the municipal corporation knew nothing and which fire-fighters failed to enter for hours. As usual, the fire-fighters either did not know the building plan, or, as in this case, the plan the one the corporation did have did not show the illegal mezzanine addition. The mezzanine floor had only one exit that the fire blocked off. Apart from the fact that the building had piles of inflammable material stored away, it was also not meant to be lived in. Yet shop-owners and porters slept over, and paid a hideous price for it.
There seems little reason to hope that this time the city fathers and mothers will do something effective instead of pointing fingers. No doubt the shop-keepers are partly to blame, and the owners of the building even more so. But the fact that they have got away for years by breaking the law reportedly they had even stopped paying tax for the building is certainly the responsibility of the administration. That may be the corporation, the fire department, or whichever other institution; what is relevant is the complete indifference of the people responsible at all levels for fire safety. The combination of callousness and corruption is quite literally lethal, although not always for those who are callous or corrupt. Nothing much has changed in Nandram Market after its terrible 100-hour blaze in 2008: no one has taken down its illegal floors. No government or corporation is interested in cleaning up the citys fire hazards. How can it be expected that anyone will remember the lesson taught by the latest deaths?