A massive fire engulfed the Surya Sen market in central Kolkata’s Sealdah area early Wednesday, killing 19 people and injuring at least 50 others. Most of the injured are still in critical condition and the death toll may go up.
The fire started early morning around 3.50 AM Wednesday. The victims, mostly laborers who work in the market, were sleeping in the building when the fire broke out. There were only one proper exit and entry route to the complex. And that staircase was blocked with goods making escape difficult. The injured were rushed to the nearby government hospitals.
The six-storied shopping complex housed several warehouses and shops. Highly inflammable goods like paper, plastic and cloth were sold and stored in the 25 year old building.
The cause of the fire is still not confirmed; although police sources claim it could have been caused by an electric “short-circuit.”
Fire-fighters took three hours to put out the raging fire. The police cordoned off the area to facilitate fire fighting operations. The fire-fighters also rescued many injured people, several of whom were unconscious.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banarjee reached the site at 11:00 AM. She addressed the reporters saying that the government had set many safety regulations following the December 2011 fire in the Advanced Medicare Research Institute, Kolkata which killed at least 90 people. But none of the norms were being implemented and followed by the building owners. “This is a very tragic incident. And it has happened because of unplanned constructions in the area. We would give Rs. 2 lakhs ($3,700) compensation to the family of those who lost their life. I have asked the police, fire department and Kolkata Municipal Corporation to give me report in three days time following which we will take the next step,” Banerjee said. Interestingly, the rescue efforts were brought to a standstill due to her visit.
Kolkata is the capital of the eastern state of West Bengal. Decades-old crumbling infrastructure characterizes this metro city of 14 million people. And the country’s safety standards also leave much to be desired. The lack of proper implementation and regulatory authorities also add to the wayward approach of commercial entities.