Safety measures: fire alarms & nothing else

Tenants point finger at owners

By Kinsuk Basu in Calcutta
  • Published 27.04.19, 4:04 AM
  • Updated 27.04.19, 4:04 AM
  • 2 mins read
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A blanket of smoke covers the area around Exide crossing on Friday morning. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

The owners of Mookherjee Estates Private Limited, a Kidderpore-based real estate company, had bought the four-storey building, where fire broke out on Friday, in 1941 and has been maintaining it since then.

Managing director of the company, Dipak Mukherjee, admitted that last year the fire and emergency services department had asked them to undertake measures to tackle a fire situation,

Till Friday, except for installing fire alarms no other measures had been put in place.

Mukherjee said the company spent several lakhs every year to maintain the property. They have rented out most of the floors to commercial establishments and a few families.

Residents and tenants alleged that other than fire alarms, the building lacked fire-fighting equipment such as sprinklers.

After Friday’s incident, the fire services department has decided to issue a notice to the company to enquire about the steps it has taken to fight fire. If the department is not satisfied with the reply, it might take legal action, an official said.

“We had decided to construct three underground water tanks to fight fire. Work was scheduled to start from May 15. Unless arrangements for water are made, it makes no sense to have hydrants and sprinklers. The smoke detectors had been installed,” Mukherjee told Metro.

“The fire department had sent the notice a year back and we were working on the recommendations. Unfortunately, the fire took place just ahead of it,” he said.

Firefighting continues at 60A Chowringhee Road.
Firefighting continues at 60A Chowringhee Road. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

The building that caught fire is one of the five that stands on a plot, which is one of the prime properties in the city. Situated behind Avani Heights at the crossing of Asutosh Mukherjee Road and Bishop Lefroy Road, all the five buildings, including Chowringhee Banquets, are owned by the company. While the fire-hit building is a four-storey structure, there is another, which stands taller at five storeys. The rest are smaller.

The top floor of the fire-hit building is spread over 14,400sqft and all the floors have been rented out, said Mukherjee.

Each of the floors has around four to five tenants doing business. The top-most floor has two tenants, one of them uses it as residence.

The Mookherjee Estates had bought this building from Leslie and Arathoon in 1941. Besides this address, the company had also bought the Leslie House on 19A Jawaharlal Nehru Road from the duo, who Mukherjee said used to collectively own several properties in Calcutta in the early 20th century.

“The four-storey building is a typical early 20th century building constructed using iron joists and clay tiles. We have been putting in a lot of effort to maintain it well,” Mukherjee said. “This holds true for Leslie House as well.”

Mukherjee said he had been looking around for the certified building plan of the four-storeyed building and had even written to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation to help him find one.

“Nobody knows when this building was actually built. We have inherited a tenant who has been on the ground floor since 1928. So probably the building was built before that,” Mukherjee said. “As you can make out, we have maintained the property well.”

Records with the registrar of companies (RoC) reveal Mookherjee Estates Private Limited has six directors on its roll and has a paid up capital of Rs 24 lakh. The last annual general meeting was held on September 29, 2018.

“This has been a closely-held family company. We owned the erstwhile National Rubber Manufacturers Limited. We are not into any business other than maintaining these two properties,” Mukherjee said.