The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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When coincidences insist on falling into a pattern, it takes quite a mental contortionist to avoid the obvious conclusions. The fire in Burrabazar, which burnt down the Ludhiana Hosiery Building and destroyed crores of rupees worth of woollen clothes, seems, at first sight, an eerie repetition of the blaze in Firpo’s Market earlier this year. Sabotage for the freeing of particularly lucrative properties, engineered by interested parties, is the most obvious inference in such cases. The recent events concerning the building in Burrabazar have encouraged this speculation; the building was under notice as unsafe from the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, but had also been bought for a reportedly fantastic amount by a businessman recently. The theory of sabotage may be the most obvious inference: it is also the most convenient. It diverts attention from the total mismanagement that envelops the administration at every level. The building had been left to its own devices after being called unsafe, neither the police nor corporation officials seem to know why nothing was done even after the owners failed to explain how the building could be repaired.

This is just one of a long list of failures. The firemen failed to get enough water on time, the hydrants were non-functional, and by a particularly engaging coincidence, the corporation had suspended water supply for the entire city that very night. The mayor, busy blaming everybody, did not fail to mention that the firemen were “ignorant”, they should have got water from the Mullickghat pumping station by a relay system. Also, tangles of electrical wires and exposed ends suggest short circuit as a likely cause for the fire. Irregular connections and neglect of basic maintenance would make accident and sabotage equally plausible as causes. The repeated fires have shown up two very obvious spheres of action. The first is to do with the maintenance of old buildings, strict monitoring for their safety and the modernizing of fire safety and fire-fighting arrangements. The other is to make sure that if there is sabotage, the saboteurs do not get away with it or do not gain from it, that there is no quiet benefit anywhere along the line.

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