12 injured; over 200 shops gutted; CM announces relief, orders probe

Twenty people died in their sleep when a major fire engulfed a five-storey market complex housing shops storing mainly plastics and paper in Sealdah area of the city early on Wednesday . Twelve others have been admitted to the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital with serious burn injuries, according to unconfirmed reports.

The fire was detected at 3.50 a.m. in the 25-year-old Surya Sen Market complex (in central Kolkata) housing a godown-cum-office complex when the victims, mostly labourers working in the market, were sleeping, Vice-Chairman of the market, Sushanta Ghose said.

The fire brought to mind an earlier tragedy at a city hospital in December 2011 in which over 90 people were burnt alive.

Smoke and toxic fumes were bellowing out from the mezzanine and first floors of the building in the “unauthorised” market until late in the morning.

The staircase of the market complex was blocked with goods, making it difficult for the people to escape the inferno, Ghose said.

According to fire officials, plastics, paper and cloth were stored in the godowns. The ground and the first floors of the complex, which sustained the maximum damage, housed 200 shops.

When 63-year-old Nandakishore Agarwal rushed to his shop at dawn on Wednesday, he found it completely gutted. Agarwal also has two other shops in the same six-storey “illegal” market complex.


Ghose said there was only one proper entry and exit route into the complex. Though there was one emergency exit, it had not been used for the last 15 years, he said.

The fire was brought under control by 25 fire tenders a little after 10 a.m. The cause of the fire is not yet known.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has announced an ex-gratia relief of Rs 2 lakh each for the families of the dead and Rs 50,000 each for the injured. Of the 20 people who died, 13 bodies have been identified, she said.

“All of them were labourers from either Bengal or Jharkhand. They used to spend the nights in that building,” Banerjee said. She also visited the hospital to meet with the families of the vistims .

“This is an illegal market, and it was built during the tenure of the Left Front Government in the State,” said Fire Services Minister Javed Khan .

The Chief Minister has ordered the police, fire service and the city administration to submit reports on the cause of the fire soon and take measures to avert such incidents in future.

“It is a tremendous loss; very unfortunate loss of life,” West Bengal Governor M. K. Narayanan said after visiting the spot.


(This article was published on February 27, 2013)
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