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If you will not do it, we will: Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee speaks of taking remedial action on old buildings

Mamata has directed the Calcutta mayor to tell the occupants of old and hazardous buildings to take remedial action or let the government do so

By Sambit Saha and Subhajoy Roy
  • Published 19.09.18
  • a few seconds read
Bagree Market around 1pm on Tuesday. Picture by Sanat Kumar Sinha 
and reporting by Pranab Mondal

Frankfurt/Calcutta: Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has directed the Calcutta mayor to tell the occupants of old and hazardous buildings to take remedial action or let the government do so and hinted at vertical flexibility if reconstruction is required.

A situation where no action is taken and the blame is laid at the government's door when something goes wrong will no longer be tolerated, Mamata suggested against the backdrop of the Bagree Market fire. Speaking to reporters in Frankfurt, Mamata made it clear that her reference was not confined to Bagree Market alone.

"I have clearly told the mayor to tell them that they should either do the work or let the government do it... whenever there is an incident, the government has to bear the blame," Mamata said.

"It is not only about Bagree Market but all such hazardous buildings," she added.

Mamata said that if the traders cannot do the necessary work, the government would do so but the occupants must allow it. "We have to look after the safety aspect.... If required, we will allow construction of 10 floors in the place of four floors," she said.

The chief minister appeared to be alluding to a provision in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation Building Rules, 2009, that allows owners of old and dilapidated structures to build additional space than what would be normally allowed on a plot of similar size. The aim of the provision is to rehabilitate all tenants of old buildings and give the owner a chance to make a profit by selling off newly created floor space.

Although the chief minister did not explicitly say so, her comments suggest reconstruction, which will involve demolition, and not mere repair could be part of the plan.

A CMC engineer said in Calcutta that many hazardous structures were beyond the scope of repair and would need to be pulled down and rebuilt. Calcutta has around 2,900 buildings classified as "dangerous" (which can be repaired) and 100 as "condemned" (beyond repair).

"Most old marketplaces in the Burrabazar area are filled with multiple tenants who have been in business for years. They would be rehabilitated under this rule if new buildings are erected," the engineer added.

Besides, new buildings can be planned with more fire-safety measures and wider staircases, he added.

Encroachments had clogged the pathways to Bagree Market and hampered firefighting. Corridors and staircases clogged with goods and narrow passages are common sights in many markets and commercial buildings in Burrabazar and adjoining areas. The situation is compounded by hawkers sitting on pavements and on the roads.

In Calcutta, mayor Sovan Chatterjee chaired a meeting, which was described as "routine", with all mayoral council members and senior officials, where fire hazards in markets and commercial establishments were discussed.

"Traders in all markets have to conduct their business inside the shutters of their shops. Materials stacked on the corridors have to be removed. We will implement these measures," Chatterjee said after the meeting.

Sources said the CMC would inspect 37 buildings listed as vulnerable to see if they had strayed from the sanctioned plans or been encroached upon. "We will first serve a notice to the encroachers or the market association, asking them to adhere to the sanctioned plan. If they don't do it, we will lodge an FIR," a CMC official said.

Chatterjee said that the fire brigade had lodged a police complaint against the owners of Bagree Market and the CEO of the company running the market.