Burrabazar is not only the city’s business hub. It is also a tinderbox, as Saturday’s devastating fire at Ludhiana Hosiery Building proved. Buildings standing cheek-by-jowl are used as residential or commercial complexes or as godowns, containing highly inflammable goods — from plastic products to woollen garments — waiting to burst into flames.
“At least 230 buildings in the area are unsafe and we have announced that they either need extensive repairs or immediate demolition,” said Pratim Chatterjee, fire services minister, on Saturday.
A high-level committee of the department will hold a meeting on Monday to decide on the next course of action. Fire department officers will inspect the buildings in the area and detect the faults, including defective electric cables and godowns bursting at the seams with goods. “We will ask the landlords to rectify these defects immediately or face action,” the minister said. Fire department officers hinted at a joint probe with the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) into the Ludhiana Building blaze.
“The CMC had declared unsafe Ludhiana Building and the houses in 2, 3 and 4, Babulal Lane, on January 23, 2001,” mayor Subrata Mukherjee said. The electrical wiring of these buildings was ancient and desperately in need of repairs. It has caught fire five times, the last one being in January.
“After each blaze, firemen ask the tenants to be extra careful. The landlord was asked to undertake immediate repairs. But nothing ever happened. Even in the past, we have requested the landlords to do something about the century-old wiring, but no one is even ready to listen,” said Sunil Joshi, a local resident.
A large number of illegal eateries which have sprung up on the commercial sections of buildings in Burrabazar pose a fire hazard to residents of these buildings. “None of these buildings have bothered about the minimum fire-safety measures. A major disaster is waiting to happen any day,” said Pratim Chatterjee.
“There are many such buildings in the area where short-circuits can take place any moment,” a CMC officer said. However, neither the shop-owners and residents, nor the officers, seem too keen to get the faulty wiring repaired.
Satyanarayan Bajaj, Trinamul Congress MLA from Burrabazar, wants all godowns removed from the residential area. “I have written a letter to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, requesting him to remove the godowns from the residential areas to avoid such incidents in future,” Bajaj said.
In the apartments adjacent to Ludhiana Building, dangling electrical wires emit sparks that could set off a blaze all the time in these neglected buildings.
Electrical meters are tapped illegally in this area and could cause another fire any time, officers say. A large number of illegal kiosks near Satyanarayan Park and in Phulpatti, too, tap power illegally. “Last month nearly 60 cases of tapping were detected in the Satyanarayan Park area and three persons were arrested,” a senior CESC official said.