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Mar 01, 2013 at 10:15am IST

Kolkata fire: Shopkeepers allege nexus, government refuses to take responsibility

Kolkata: The recent deadly blaze at the Surya Sen market with 19 casualties is not the first fire tragedy in Kolkata. But no lessons seem to have been learnt. At the Nandaram Market, where a devastating fire gutted 1,000 shops in 2008. Five years on, loose wires and inflammable material are stacked around the narrow corridors. With an illegal construction on the top floor, and inadequate fire extinguishers, the Nandaram Market is another disaster waiting to happen.

Nandaram Market Traders Welfare Association secretary Chandra Prakash Rathi said, "After fire they say everything is unauthorised. We don't even want to be unsafe. This is not a new market this has been there for 50 years. We also don't want to be unsafe."

While the government blames illegal constructions and callous owners, the shopkeepers allege a nexus. Kolkata Tarpulin Merchant's Association secretary Mohd Bhati said, "Government says there are illegal unauthorised buildings, my question is how did they come up in the first place if there was collusion between the owners and the authorities."

But what about the markets which are owned by the government? At the Hoggs Market in Kolkata, there are only 20 fire extinguishers for more than 1200 shops, posing huge safety hazards. Zayed Alam, joint secretary, Hoggs Market Shop Owners Association said, "We will not be able to save anything. We have complained so many times. We will not be able to save anything."

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has given market owners 90 days to comply with fire safety rules. A surveillance team has been set up to stop people from staying inside markets after the Surya Sen Market blaze killed sleeping migrant workers. Mamata said, "Please don't sleep inside markets. Owners need to be more careful."

Teams, task force, committees - every time there is an incident of fire, Kolkata hears the same old rhetoric but for how long. Safety is fast becoming the biggest casualty of indifferent owners and authorities which are happy passing the buck.