The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rebuild hope on ashes

Calcutta, Dec. 22: Amid the ravages of a fire, punctuating the rage at suspected mischief, murmurs about rebuilding have started.

Rebuilding life, even home — exactly where it had stood until Friday night when a fire gutted Ludhiana Hosiery Building and heavily damaged four other buildings, together known as Kesoram Katra.

As the second night fell on some 500 people dispossessed of their homes, there was a gathering determination to reconstruct the houses, keeping the government and the missing owner, D.K. Agarwal, away.

“We won’t allow him (the owner) to build a multi-storeyed,” G.P. Gupta, a resident, said as he surveyed the devastated site, from where smoke still wafted out, his eyes clouding over with anger.

There was rage on Mahatma Gandhi Road that no politician, bureaucrat or high-ranking policeman had paid a visit to offer hope to people who had lost not only their homes but many also their livelihood. Kesoram Katra housed shops as well.

Community elders decided to meet Mayor Subrata Mukherjee tomorrow to check if they could rebuild at the site. “I will do my best to rehabilitate those who have legal papers,” Mukherjee said.

In cold legal terms, it is difficult to see how the victims can build on property whose ownership rests with someone else. The mayor’s words — “legal papers” — hide another cruel irony. It has been seen earlier, most recently in the Firpo’s market fire, that many occupants did not have “legal” possession.

About 500 people stayed in the building or had their shops there and the hosiery industry working out of Kesoram Katra supported several thousand families. That many lives would have to start anew. And having a home is the first step.

The elders met at the Punjab Seva Samiti Hall, a stone’s throw from the site, and the unanimous decision was to stick it out in the 10-odd nearby dharamsalas. Home will have to wait.

Jamuna Prasad sat on a mattress tonight watching over her three sleeping children aged six to 12 at Shamdeo Gopiram Bhotica dharamsala. “A voluntary organisation has given me a wrapper and I’m trying to keep my children warm,” she said.

Her husband was still standing in front of the gutted building, bang opposite, nearly 48 hours after the fire.

In the day, schoolgoing children slugged it out under the open sky with borrowed clothes and food, while their parents rummaged through the ruins to retrieve what they could.

Retrieval was also on the mind of Rohit Kalia, who had opened his computer shop only a week ago. “I will look for someplace else to set up business till we can move back here,” he said, determined to rescue the past.

S.P. Jain, S.K. Bhalla and Mukesh Gupta, all shopowners, are thinking the same thought. “The goods I ordered will arrive from Ludhiana any day now and I have to get back to work to take care of my family,” Gupta said.

Every day of no work is a loss of Rs 10 crore around here.

n See Metro

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