The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mystery hand in mischief blaze
- Arson whiff smothers accident cry

At the end of the day, there is hardly any disagreement that the fire at Dunlop’s marketing office, on Free School Street, is a “possible act of sabotage”.

But this still does not remove any of the mystery surrounding the early-morning blaze that destroyed the building.

Earlier, while the police, the civic authorities and the fire brigade were pushing the sabotage angle, Dunlop’s senior executives in Calcutta were insisting the blaze was “an accident”.

Only later, on Thursday evening, did Dunlop’s office in Mumbai concede that it could be an act of sabotage.

But firemen remained baffled by several aspects of the dawn blaze.

The first, and most important aspect, according to them, is why the fire did not get noticed till five in the morning, when by all estimates — given the extent of the damage when the firemen reached the spot — it had started a good five hours earlier.

Initially, people of the area and even some Dunlop officials said that the building was locked and the doors and windows were shut, which is why the blaze had escaped the notice of the people.

In fact, it was not residents of the area who informed the fire brigade about the blaze, but a newspaper hawker who saw it while on his rounds.

“We are extremely surprised that no one noticed the fire before it was too late to save the building,” said fire brigade director Baren Sen.

“There must have been some sound or smoke from the burning building,” he reasoned.

The next question, for which there seems to be no apparent answer, is: how did the fire start'

The most common cause of an accidental fire, an electrical short-circuit, has been ruled out. The reason: the power lines to the building had been disconnected a long time ago.

The building has been in disuse for at least the past four years and is now used as a storehouse. No one either works or lives in the building.

“The electric supply has been disconnected, the airconditioners have been removed and no one was staying overnight in the building. So, there is no question of a lighted match or a cigarette stub being thrown around carelessly,” Sen said, after an inspection of the building. “This fire is a mystery.”

This takes us to the next baffling aspect of the case. If it was not an accidental fire, then who started it' And why'

The Dunlop management said: “It could be the handiwork of some miscreants and disgruntled elements. (We) will approach the Calcutta Police for a thorough investigation into the incident.” But there is no hint of who these “disgruntled elements” could be.

Deputy commissioner (headquarters) K.L. Tamta has registered a case of “criminal conspiracy” and dubbed it an “act of mischief”. But he is not willing to venture beyond this.

“A team of forensic experts visited the spot in the evening and collected some material,” Tamta said.

“Once the debris has been removed and the samples have been examined, we will get a clearer picture. Meanwhile, we shall examine all aspects of the case, speak to the management and the employees and figure out who these ‘disgruntled elements’ are,” Tamta added.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee added to the mystery when he said from London: “Check the antecedents of the building. All the answers may lie there.”


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