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Hawkers back in Bagree zone

The blaze had started in a hawker’s stall on the pavement along Canning Street in front of the building
Corrugated sheets in front of the façade of Bagree Market prevent hawkers from coming back.
Corrugated sheets in front of the façade of Bagree Market prevent hawkers from coming back.
Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

Debraj Mitra   |   Calcutta   |   Published 22.01.19, 08:28 AM

Bagree Market, the six-storey trading hub in Burrabazar that was ravaged by a fire three months ago, is still out of bounds for traders but the pavements along the road leading to it have again been taken over by hawkers.

The September 16 blaze, which raged for over 80 hours, had started in a hawker’s stall on the pavement along Canning Street in front of the building.

Sunday’s fire at Gurudas Mansion in Gariahat, which houses sari shops Traders Assembly and Adi Dhakeswari Bastralaya, is also suspected to have started in a stall on the pavement.

Along Canning Street on Monday, Metro saw stalls made of bamboo poles and plastic sheets selling everything from bangles to brooms. Scores of them were stacked with inflammable items such as plastic rolls, toys, mattresses, clothes and table mats.

The stalls had made the pavement out of bounds for pedestrians and also clogged the road. If a fire breaks out, fire engines would have a tough time approaching the building.

The only place free of hawkers was a 40m stretch right in front of the charred façade of Bagree Market. Corrugated sheets have been erected on that stretch.

Barring some portions on the ground floor, Bagree Market is inaccessible to the traders who had shops there.

All the buildings in the area are as vulnerable to blaze as they were before September 16.

The electric posts were barely visible because of the mesh of wires surrounding them. A lamp post stood around 10m from Bagree Market. At least five stalls on either side of the post drew power from it with loose, uninsulated cables.

The Gariahat fire, forensic experts suspect, started from a short-circuit triggered by loose ends of a stall’s cables.

While the Bagree fire was raging and for a few days after it was doused, there were police pickets in the area, which prevented hawkers from setting up stalls on the pavements. But the moment the pickets were withdrawn and the traffic curbs lifted, the hawkers returned, said traders who function from different buildings in the area.

“I have a small 60watt bulb in my stall. It hardly makes a difference,” said a hawker, who identified himself as Gani.

The traders inside the buildings alleged the authorities were indifferent to their plight. “After the Bagree fire, we had expected the government would do something about the squatters. But nothing has happened,” said a man who runs a shop that sells belts and wallets on the ground floor of Rampuria Market, near Bagree Market.

The hawkers said they had little choice.

“I cannot afford a spot inside these buildings. What will I do?” asked Muhammad Suleman, who has a stall in front of a building at 72 Canning Street.

“Take a look inside. The staircases have become godowns. Why should we be blamed alone?” said another hawker, referring to Rampuria Market.

Aparajita Dasgupta, chairperson of borough V (the Canning Street area falls under it), said she was unaware that hawkers had returned to the pavements. “I will ask police to take necessary action,” she said.

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