70 hours – Still Burning


It’s been more than 70 hours and the Nandram Market in Kolkata’s Burrabazar is still burning!

More than 2,500 shops and offices have been gutted and property worth almost 500 crores destroyed in the fire, which swept the wholesale market in the Burrabazar area since the early hours of Saturday. Fifty fire tenders are being used to fight the blaze.

The fire fighting equipments of the West Bengal Fire Department could not reach beyond 8 floors showing how badly equipped the Fire Department is in times of crisis management. Sensing the handicap of the Fire Department, the State authorities called in the Army and the Air Force to assist them in the operation but due to a lack of co-ordination, the joint exercise could not be put into motion on the first day of fire and the armed forces had to retrieve.

The Army men claimed that they were well equipped to fight such a fire and they could work faster if provided with a blueprint and cooperation from the fire services department, following which the Army was called again the next day. Some Army personnel have already entered the eighth floor of the fire-ravaged building to control the blaze in the 13-storeyed structure. Six Army men led by a Major from Panagar ammunition depot had also arrived with CO2 and foam to help firefighters extinguish the fire. Army jawans, however, averted a potential explosion in the 12th-floor generator room, packed with 300 litres of fuel, by taking the stairs and spraying foam at the first signs of smoke from the room.

The entire high-rise could collapse with pockets of fire still raging in some floors. Fanned by strong winds, the fire raged dangerously on the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th floors of Nandaram market, which were beyond the reach of water canons procured from the Army and Air Force.

To the surprise and anguish of many, Fire Minister Pratim Chatterjee’s answer to the reporters was, “I’m not an astrologer, I can’t predict…. I don’t know how much combustible material is stacked inside. We are trying,” he said.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee appeared to obliquely criticize the civic authorities by questioning the legality of the market buildings’ construction. The city’s buildings are notorious for cramped construction and failure to follow safety norms. This statement of the Chief Minister was highly protested by the shop-owners. One trader said ”All these years when the civic authorities had been collecting taxes from us and issuing new trade licenses, no question of its illegality was raised and now when its time to help the taxpayers we hear this!”

One shop-owner died with a cardiac arrest when he saw his shop up in flames. The whole area has been cordoned off and onlookers gathered near the barricades to take a close look at the mammoth fire.

Many traders who stood watching their hard earned money being converted into ashes were either speechless or venting their fire on the Government. One shop-owner said,”We live in a metro city of a so called developed nation but see how ill-equipped we are.”

This incident raises a serious question to the future of high-rises coming up in Kolkata and the safety and legality of the constructions taking place in full swing.

Namit Agarwal