Even as the Ludhiana Hosiery Building was being razed to the ground, the Calcutta Municipal Developmental Authority (CMDA) stall at the Industrial Trade Fair was proudly displaying its latest gizmo — a piece of technology that could have saved precious time by providing valuable information to fire-fighters early on Saturday.
The fire services ministry has been developing a computerised database to provide just the kind of information — like road space and water sources — which would have been crucial in Burrabazar. But the Geographical Information System (GIS) project, started in August 2001 and now nearing completion, cannot be implemented due to a lack of funds.
“The system, which we have developed with the help of the CMDA and the Corporation, is virtually complete. But implementation within our given framework would cost more than Rs 1 crore, and we cannot afford this right now,” admitted Pratim Chatterjee, fire services minister. The fire services department has an annual budget of about Rs 75 crore, of which Rs 70 crore goes to meet the wages. “Much of the rest is spent building new fire stations,” he said.
The Calcutta Fire Service Data Management system was designed to synthesise information pertaining to fire management within Calcutta. Hyped as the first of its kind in the country, it was to include all information — like zoning of fire-prone areas, number and status of hydrants and other water sources — would all be easily available and accessible. “GIS can go a long way in bringing down reaction time and improving the quality of service, as we will have all the relevant information at our fingertips,” said Chatterjee.
Calcutta’s central business district was identified as amongst the vulnerable zones, according to the report submitted to the ministry. The report states that most of the 24 wards of the business district fall under the ‘vulnerable’ category because of narrow roads, making them inaccessible to fire engines. They also have insufficient water sources.
Low-cost recommendations have also been made in the report, like identifying at least one parking-free road, especially in vulnerable wards, to give easy access to fire engines during emergency.