The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pandal brake on blaze battle

It can happen again, anywhere in the city, either in the run-up to the Pujas or even during the festival.

The culprit: Puja organisers who erect pandals encroaching on the road, making it impossible for large vehicles, and sometimes even smaller ones, to pass.

On Wednesday morning, on receiving a call that a fire had broken out on Tiljala Road, three fire tenders rushed to douse the flames. But as they were nearing Tiljala Road, they were stopped in their tracks at Dilkhusha Street by a pandal constructed by the Park Culture Association. As the fire blazed some distance away in a grease factory, the firemen stood helplessly, not knowing whether there were people trapped inside.

Fortunately, as the firemen learnt much later, no lives were lost. The fire did spread, but only to a plastic factory and another producing leather goods.

The firemen rushed up the nearby No. 4 Bridge, from where the fire was visible. With extended hosepipes, they tried to put out the fire, but their efforts proved futile as the factory was still out of range. Next, they decided to approach the blaze by jumping from one shanty-top to another. But this proved perilous. The roofs of some shanties gave way. Finally, the fire had to be fought by the “relay system” of passing on buckets.

By the time the fire was out, there were at least three firemen with serious injuries and several helping hands out of action.

“All this would not have happened,” thundered fire minister Pratim Chatterjee, “had the organisers not encroached on the road. I don’t know why they are allowed to do so.”

Officer-in-charge of Karaya police station, Subrata Ghosh, who gave the no-objection certificate to the puja committee, said that they had violated every rule in the book. “We had clearly instructed them to leave at least 10 feet on Dilkhusha Street. But not only have they encroached further, they have also dumped building material on the road, blocking it even further. A notice has been served on the club.”

Police chief Sujoy Chakraborty claimed he was “helpless”, as “pandals cannot be taken apart till the Pujas. We serve notices on them and fine them Rs 1,000 for the violations.”

Secretary of Park Culture Association Sayan Datta said: “There is no question of moving the pandal from the spot where it has been for 49 years... There are two other approach roads to the blaze spot that the fire engines could have used.”

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