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Thursday , February 28 , 2013
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Inside ‘legal’ shell, a lethal illegal floor

Calcutta, Feb. 27: The “basement plus G+4” building at 35 APC Road is “legal” in the books of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) but nothing about it seems so.

The civic bosses are not aware that the building has a mezzanine floor from where several shops, offices and godowns operate. The building plan sanctioned in 1985 did not mention the construction of any such floor. All the deaths on Wednesday were on the mezzanine floor.

But CMC officials said they did not act because they “never received any complaint” — as if an occupant would have filed a petition.

“The building plan was sanctioned in 1985 and it was supposed to have a basement and five floors. The plan submitted to us said it would be a commercial building with a basement car park, ground-floor bazaar and a commercial complex,” said Debasish Chakraborty, the CMC’s director-general, buildings (II).

Spread over 20 cottahs, the CMC lost around Rs 3.30 lakh as annual tax from the building since the fourth quarter of the 2007-08 financial year, when its owners stopped paying taxes. Even that could not make the civic officials aware that something was wrong.

Civic records show that the building is owned by three Sahas. One portion is owned by two Roys and others.

Before 1985, the address 35 APC Road had only a single-storey building. Three addresses — 34/1A, 34/1B and 46/1 Surya Sen Street — were merged with 35 APC Road and the entire compound was registered as one unit.

A casual inspection would have been enough to set the alarm bells ringing. The mezzanine floor had been sandwiched into an 18ft gap between the ground floor and its ceiling.

“There is nothing legal inside it. Walls have been erected here, there and everywhere just to accommodate more shops and godowns. They barely left space for more than one person to walk through the alley,” said a police officer.

What reporters of this newspaper saw inside the building suggests several deviations from the contents of the records available with the civic body.

All the victims were sleeping on the mezzanine floor though the building does not have residential sanction.

Mithun Jana, 27, one of the victims who worked with an event management company less than 500 metres away, would often spend the night in one of the shops in the building. Radhagobinda Poddar and his son Ratan Poddar, who had a street-side potato shop, lived in one of the rooms.

Mayor Sovan Chatterjee quickly blamed the CPM for the illegal parts of the building, conveniently forgetting that as mayor for over two years, it is his responsibility to take corrective action. “It is an illegal building like thousands of other buildings that cropped up during the rule of the CPM. They never got any permission from the CMC to build the building,” Chatterjee said.

Residents of the neighbourhood said around 100 people stayed in the building during the night.

“Any building being used for a residential purpose should provide basic amenities like proper ventilation, water and drainage. This building had none of these facilities,” said a senior engineer at CMC.

The victims could not escape from the mezzanine floor because of shortage of exits. “There is only one staircase that connects the ground and mezzanine floors. I have repeatedly complained to the owners, but they never took any step,” said a shop owner.

A veteran civic employee listed the string of lapses and asked: “If this does not make a building illegal, what does?”

“Political parties in power may change but unauthorised construction will never stop because it is a win-win situation for everybody involved,” he said at the CMC headquarters.

A police team that had gone to take photographs of unauthorised construction in the port division was dragged to the local Trinamul office recently and made to apologise before Mohammad Iqbal (Munna), the chairman of borough XV, now on the run after a police officer was killed in Garden Reach.