Wiring theory before tests

Roof of couple's house intact

By Pranab Mondal
  • Published 16.05.18
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The home where the couple died. The bamboo-supported ceiling, below which wires run, and the roof are intact, testing the short-circuit theory

Kakdwip: Forensic analysts visited the house of Debu Das on Tuesday afternoon, around 20 hours after Bengal police chief Surajit Kar Purkayastha said an electrical short circuit appeared to have caused the fire that claimed the lives of Das and his wife Usha.

The CPM had alleged that Das and Usha were burnt alive after they ignored threats and kept campaigning for the party's candidates in the panchayat polls.

The unofficial toll in the rural polls climbed to 26 with seven more deaths reported on Tuesday. The state election commission has ordered repolls in 573 booths - the highest in recent memory.

The spot where the bodies were found

Two officials from the state forensic laboratory spent more than two hours at the house in Kakdwip, South 24-Parganas, around 110km from Calcutta, and collected samples strewn on the mud floor in the extended part of the single-storey house with an asbestos roof.

The couple were sleeping on a charpoy in the extended portion that had bamboo fencing and a tiled shed. The partially charred bodies of Das, 50, and Usha, 41, were found on the floor of the extended part.

"We have collected samples which will be sent for tests.

This is our first visit to the house and we are not in a position to conclude what sparked the fire," said a member of the forensic team. At least five to seven days are needed to get the results of the tests.

On Monday evening, Kar Purkayastha had said at Nabanna: "Electrical wires were found at the house and the fire appeared to be an incident of short circuit."

An oil-stained jerrycan found near the house

Fire ignited by an electrical short circuit normally damages the areas around the wires, which is why the roof or the ceilings get affected, said a forensic analyst not connected with the case.

But traces of a fire at the humble home of the CPM supporters were visible only around the floor.

"Their only son, Dipankar, a BA third-year student, was the first to see the charred bodies on the floor when he returned home around 12.15am on Monday and informed us," said a neighbour.

Police said the couple's son, who had gone to a wedding reception as a hired hand that evening, lodged a complaint around 5pm on Monday when he was intercepted on his way to the state election commission's office on Rawdon Street.

Mitendu Bhuniya, a district committee member of the CPM in South 24-Parganas, alleged that the police did not want to receive the complaint initially and Dipankar was made to wait at Kakdwip police station for hours till they booked a vehicle to bring him to the poll panel office.

"After we started for Calcutta, the police stopped us and received a formal complaint from Dipankar around 5pm and the DGP referred to electrical short circuit as the possible reason behind the deaths. Does it mean that the preliminary inquiry was over within 45 minutes?" asked Bhuniya.

The intact ceiling, from which a wire is dangling. 

The poll panel has sought a report from the district police on the incident. Although Purkayastha had referred to the possibility of electrical short circuit, the district police are yet to submit any report to the poll panel, sources said.

When The Telegraph visited the Das home, the forensic team was scanning the extended part of the house.

One of the members of the forensic team was heard saying: "The MCB is on."

A Miniature Circuit Breaker (MCB) - normally located next to the electrical meter box - functions by interrupting the electrical flow through the circuit once a fault is detected.

"It turns off automatically, if there are faults like a short circuit," said an electrical engineer.

At the Das home, which doesn't have any house adjacent to it on either side, a switched-on MCB may not mean much as someone tinkering with it cannot be ruled out.

Similarly, the possibility of a fire caused by using some combustible material is also a likelihood, more so because a large container was found outside the home.

Pictures by Pranab Mondal