The mayor has, finally, shown his hand.
Having kept various pressure groups happy by making the right noises since April 2002, Subrata Mukherjee has taken a U-turn and given the nod for the reconstruction of Firpo’s market, two years after it was devastated by a fire.
“We have decided to allow reconstruction of Firpo’s market exactly as it was before, based on a proposal from Rajen Poddar,” said the mayor, contesting the Calcutta North West parliamentary constituency.
Civic officials told Metro on Sunday that the authorities were so pleased with the proposal that they have decided to apply the existing building rules “leniently”, so that Firpo’s can be reconstructed fast.
The 150-year-old landmark on Chowringhee, that housed a few hundred stores, a bank and a few eateries, was reduced to a charred shell by a blaze on April 23, 2002.
Soon after the fire, Mukherjee had announced that the civic authorities would never allow reconstruction because the fire was not above suspicion and that the two-bigha site on Jawaharlal Nehru Road would be turned into a park, complete with fountains, statues and lighting.
The mayor cited “the plight of about 150 families” that depended on the Firpo’s stalls for their livelihood as the reason for his “reconsideration”. The fact that these families “are virtually on the verge of starvation”, apparently, forced Mukherjee to review his earlier stand.
“Then I decided against the park and in favour of the reconstruction,” he explained.
Now, after Mukherjee’s volte face, the reconstructed Firpo’s market could comprise some “very tall towers”, instead.
Promoter Poddar, who had taken the property on lease from the Mullicks of Pathuriaghata, would be well within his rights to seek sanction for several storeys, said civic officials.
The opposition in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, however, sees more to the mayor’s about-turn than meets the eye. CPM legislator Sudhangshu Sil, Mukherjee’s rival for the Calcutta North West seat, argued that the decision to reconstruct Firpo’s on an “as-it-was” basis was wrong, because the originally-sanctioned building plan was missing from the records.
“I want the mayor to announce how many floors he will allow at the reconstructed Firpo’s because there is no building plan with the CMC,” said Sil.
Opposition councillors fear that in the absence of a building plan, those rebuilding the market will exploit the situation to the fullest. “We fear that a multi-storeyed shopping complex will come up. It will not look like the original Firpo’s and many of the old stall-owners will be deprived,” said local CPM councillor Prabhakar Mondal.
The mayor admitted that the sanctioned plan for both Firpo’s market and the stalls inside it were missing, but refused to respond to the criticism.