The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shut shadow on tinderbox mall

Shopping landmark Air-Conditioned (AC) Market, on Shakespeare Sarani, has a closure notice hanging over its head for violation of fire-safety norms.

Pratim Chatterjee, fire services minister, threatened to close down one of the city’s oldest shopping malls unless the management widened entrances and installed modern fire safety systems on the premises immediately.

“We have sent the market authorities around five notices, but these have been ignored. So, on Wednesday, I asked the department to issue a final warning. If they don’t act after this, we will have to take the most stringent step and close it down,” said Chatterjee.

The three markets that have come under fire are:

ãAC Market, built in 1972, with 228 stores spread over 40,000 sq ft. Footfall of 3,000 result in business worth Rs 10 lakh (approx) a day.

ãVardaan Market, operating since 1984. Here, 312 shops occupy 30,000 sq ft, visited by 5,000 customers a day, bringing in business of around Rs 8 lakh.

ãTreasure Island, open since 1985. This 18,000-sq-ft premises houses 85 shops, with 1,500 shoppers buying goods worth Rs 85,000 (approx) a day.

The entrance and exit of AC Market are inadequate, the minister alleged. There is also a “lack of sprinklers, smoke and heat detectors”.

Surendra Rampuria, managing director of ABL International Ltd, that owns the market, has denied having received any government warning. “To date, we have not got any notice from the fire department. Its officials had surveyed the market after the fire at Satyanarayan Park, but they had not found anything amiss at the time,” claimed Rampuria.

Rampuria said that there are no sprinklers or smoke detectors at AC Market as “such norms did not exist when the market was built in 1972”.

Fire safety laws have been modified to suit modern needs, Chatterjee added, and builders have to comply with them in the interest of safety.

There have been two fires in the past at the Shakespeare Sarani market. But even on Wednesday, when Metro did the rounds of the markets under a cloud, two fire exits in the AC Market basement were found shuttered.

“The doors are made of thin glass. They can be broken open in case of emergency,” explained the caretaker.

At Vardaan Market, on Camac Street, 12 stores were gutted in 2001. Metro found no sprinklers and smoke or fire detectors in sight and just a few fire extinguishers.

Market association president R.K. Agarwal denied having received a notice from the fire services department.

Minister Chatterjee, however, said the market had asked for two months’ time to meet fire safety norms.

At Treasure Island, fire extinguishers were conspicuous by their absence, and the few around were beyond the expiry date.

The threat of action against errant markets follows Tuesday evening’s arrest of promoter Pradip Kundalia, after one of his properties, also on Shakespeare Sarani, caught fire.

“A fire broke out at Kundalia Towers on May 16, in which fire brigade officials rescued 19 people. The entrance was not wide enough to allow entry of fire tenders. This is a serious offence,” the fire minister said.

Kundalia was produced before the seventh metropolitan magistrate on Wednesday and remanded in police custody till August 30.

“We have to be particularly cautious where large numbers of people assemble,” stressed minister Chatterjee.

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