Hawkers, who draw power illegally and cook on footpaths, are a safety hazard for buildings in the Gariahat area.
A number of residents of the five-storey Gurudas Mansion that caught fire early on Sunday said they had spotted flames in stalls on the footpath before the building caught fire.
The fire that raged in Bagree Market, in Burrabazar, in September apparently started in a hawker’s stall outside.
Tarpaulin sheets hanging over hawkers’ stalls and tied to adjoining buildings are a common sight across Gariahat. Adding to the risk, there are a number of food stalls where the owners light up fire to cook.
Mayor Firhad Hakim, who visited Gariahat on Sunday afternoon, said the civic authorities were trying to introduce carts for hawkers, which could be taken away at night.
“Firefighting is becoming difficult because of hawkers. They have to use carts for hawking,” said Hakim.
“The hawkers are suffering, too. They are losing all their wares because the stalls are fixed,” he said, indicating that if the stalls were mobile and could be removed at night, they would not be gutted if a fire broke out.
The hawking rules framed by the Bengal government last year mention that “any structure with tarpaulin or any other inflammable article shall not be allowed”.
Though nearly four months have passed since the rules were introduced, the authorities have not enforced them anywhere in Calcutta.
Fire minister Sujit Bose said he would sit with Hakim to decide what should be done about hawkers.
“I understand they are earning their livelihood from hawking but that doesn’t entitle them to put others at risk. The fire brigade should not face any obstruction... but hawkers are repeatedly posing obstacles,” Bose said.
Residents of Gurudas Mansion said hawkers would leave wires with which they drew power illegally hanging dangerously. “None of the stalls has a power meter. Power theft has to stop,” said the owner of a shop housed in the building.
The hawking rules of the government also state that at least two-thirds of a footpath must be kept free for pedestrians.
Residents, however, said the footpath in front of Gurudas Mansion had almost no space left. Hawkers sit on both sides leaving a narrow passage in the middle.