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Building set to get reopen signal

The fire services department has decided to grant permission to reopen the fire-ravaged Chatterjee International Center on the basis of a written undertaking by the occupants to comply with all fire safety norms within four months.

The building — barring the 14th, 15th and 16th floors — might reopen as early as the beginning of next week.

The blaze on Tuesday morning left several offices on the 15th and 16th floors gutted. The flooring and the roof of the 15th floor has developed cracks, making it structurally weak along with the floors immediately above and below it.

“We won’t grant permission to reopen three floors because the Calcutta Municipal Corporation hasn’t submitted a favourable report,” an officer of the fire services department said.

Over the next four months, companies and individuals who have offices at Chatterjee International are required to comply with a to-do list that aims to make the 23-storey highrise fully equipped to fight a blaze.

The list that will be handed to the occupants of the building on Friday includes the following recommendations:

  • Install smoke sensors and sprinklers.
  • Arrange for at least 20 fire extinguishers on every floor.
  • Hire professional fire-fighters or train the building staff.
  • Replace lift doors with ones made of fire-resistant material.
  • Install CCTV cameras on every floor.

“We have given a written undertaking to the fire services department that we will adhere to all the guidelines,” said Mahesh Prahladka, secretary of the Chatterjee International Center Society.

Chatterjee International could have witnessed a Stephen Court-like tragedy on Tuesday but for the timing of the incident.

The fire, which investigators suspect was caused by an overheated air-conditioner that someone had forgotten to switch off the previous evening, occurred 45 to 60 minutes before the building would have been teeming with office workers.

Some like Sanwar Agarwal, who had come in by 8am, were stuck in the building for more than an hour before being escorted down a dark staircase filled with smoke.

The highrise, which was for many years the tallest building in Calcutta, came up in the 1970s, at least two decades before amendments were made to the West Bengal Fire Services Act to make modern fire-fighting mechanisms mandatory.

“The building does not have many fire-safety requirements. It is a highrise and a blaze in such a tall building has to be fought from within first. Buildings have to be equipped to start the fire-fighting exercise till our personnel arrive,” an officer said.