When the Dunlop marketing office at 62A, Free School Street, caved in on Thursday morning, something more than a solid structure went up in flames. For, the building formed one of the components of Dunlop’s property recently cleared by the authorities to be sold off to facilitate plans to revive the firm in the doldrums — financially and otherwise — for quite some time.
62A, Free School Street was recently cleared for sale by the Appellate Authority of Industrial and Financial Reconstruction, officers at the Dunlop India office in Mumbai said. The proceeds would have been used in the revival package, they added.
Though a press release from the Mumbai office expressed confidence that the incident would not make any “substantial impact” on the plans to revive Dunlop India, many in Calcutta felt that any hope that employees may have nurtured for a turnaround was reduced to ashes on Thursday morning.
“This fire is definitely a setback for the financial health of the already-beleaguered firm,” Dunlop India Ltd Employees’ Federation general secretary Aniruddha Sengupta said. “We will have to wait and watch the signals that emanate from the headquarters after this incident,” he added. Refusing to call it an “accident” he demanded a “thorough probe” into the circumstances that led to the fire.
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee, who kept tabs from London, told Metro over the phone that the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) would not sanction plans for any new construction. Upsetting the company’s plans for any alternative to make up for the loss of the building, the mayor said the first thing he would do after returning to the city would be to insist — with the state government — on an enactment that would allow the CMC to take control of all fire-ravaged commercial and residential buildings.
“It is another case of sabotage and the CMC will not sanction any new construction on the plot,” Mukherjee said from Heathrow airport. “Arson might have been the only recourse for those who were eyeing the building but could not take it over from Dunlop because of yet-to-be-settled labour disputes,” he said, amid rumours that the property was mortgaged to a Mumbai-based agency.
Though no Dunlop officer had met any senior CMC officer till late on Thursday evening, members of the employees’ federation met member, mayor-in-council (building), Swapan Samaddar. They pleaded with the CMC not to do anything that could jeopardise Dunlop employees' interests.
The 60-year-old building has been lying vacant for the past four years, with all marketing operations having been shifted to other buildings, including the company’s headquarters situated just across the gutted building on the same street.
The building, with a total area of about 56,000 sq ft, is valued at about Rs 10 crore, say officers. The only silver lining is that it was insured. The building owners have unpaid property taxes to the tune of Rs 20 lakh due to the CMC, say officers.
Nevertheless, the CMC has decided to pull down what remains of the building on the 25-cottah plot.