The Telegraph
Tuesday , September 25 , 2012
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Fire and ice existence

■ 19 Cossipore Road: police station

■ 18 Cossipore Road: fire station

■ 17 Cossipore Road: a compound housing 14 godowns and factories, all violating basic fire safety norms.

Welcome to Cossipore, where on Sunday evening three out of five illegal godowns within a compound in a densely populated area were gutted in a fire that raged for over four hours, fed by plastic sheets, hundreds of litres of paint and inflammable chemicals.

Metro visited the fire zone on Monday and, barely 300 metres away, stumbled on the perfect example of the illegal learning to co-exist with the legal, in this case a police station and a fire station.

17 Cossipore Road is the first address on the left while driving towards Baranagar from Bagbazar in north Calcutta. A two-foot passage that is used to drain out effluents separates it from Cossipore fire station. Chitpore police station is next in that row.

This otherwise peaceful co-existence did hit a bump three weeks ago, though it had little to do with the factories flouting fire norms. Firemen staying in the barracks had complained in writing about the common drain being choked with effluents when their living quarters on the ground floor got flooded after heavy rain.

“If this is not a mockery of rules, then what is?” demanded Amit Chatterjee, a resident of Cossipore Road, standing in front of the fire-ravaged complex.

“Do they want us to believe that neither the fire department nor Chitpore police station knew about the hazardous nature of the units operating within 17 Cossipore Road? Such factories and godowns are common in Cossipore.”

17 Cossipore Road and 50/51 Lockgate Road, the address of the previous evening’s fire, are under ward number 6 of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, a densely populated zone with a high density of small commercial units that deal in inflammable materials. Residents of the area say fires are common in these units but Sunday’s has shaken them up.

The blaze at 50/51 Lockgate Road gobbled up three out of five factories churning out plastics, paint and hosiery. The fire apparently started in the paint factory and spread quickly. Twenty-five fire engines struggled for over five hours to bring the blaze under control.

An inspection by experts on Monday revealed that that drums storing hundreds of litres of paint exploded into giant balls of fire.

The nature of the inflammable materials used by units inside 17 Cossipore Road is diverse. The first floor houses two vest and one sari-printing unit, where besides a huge stock of clothes, paint and tarpin oil are stored. The ground floor has two godowns for electrical goods, a polythene bag unit and a medicine storeroom, among others.

The property, where close to 150 people work on a weekday, is owned by the Shri Radha Krishna Sonthalia Charitable Trust. It has only one entry-exit point and no fire-fighting installations barring a few extinguishers. It is mandatory for such units to have smoke detectors and sprinklers.

Raj Kumar Shrivastav, the caretaker of the property, said the trust did not have a common fire-safety licence. “We have informed all our tenants in writing that they are responsible for the safety of their goods. They have to procure fire licences individually. We are not responsible for it,” he told Metro.

Managing trustee Arun Kumar Churiwala was unavailable for comment.

Hari Aggarwal, owner of Shyam Prints, said he had applied for a fire-safety licence after a fire scare in May. “But nobody ever came for an inspection and I didn’t follow it up either.”

Councillor Tarun Saha said he had written to the pollution control board on behalf of the residents to start a crackdown. Officials in the Free School Street headquarters of the fire brigade admitted they didn’t know about the existence of a tinderbox complex beside Cossipore fire station.