Kolkata: A major portion of Kolkata’s age-old Hatibagan market was gutted in a devastating blaze that started early Thursday. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee hinting at probable sabotage has ordered a probe into the fire. “”More than 80 percent of the market has been destroyed in the fire. Thirty fire tenders were pressed into service and the fire has been doused,” Fire Services and Disaster Management Minister Javed Khan said.
Banerjee who was the last of the ministers to visit the fire ravaged market lost no time to order a probe, hinting at a sabotage. “The local councillors have complained to me that for the last few days some suspicious people have been roaming around the market collecting information. Whether it is a case of deliberate fire or an accidental is a matter to be probed which will be done by the police, the fire department and the disaster management group,” Banerjee said.
Some of the owners whose shops were completely gutted also suspected foul play.
“Promoters have been eyeing the market for long to set up shopping malls here. Who knows may be the fire was caused by them to get the area on which our shops were located,” said a shopkeeper in a view echoed by others.
City mayor Sovan Chattopadhaya blamed the unplanned market for the fire, while Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim pointed neglect in putting in place fire safety measures. A team of forensic experts visited the spot and will return there Friday.
While the fire which took over eleven hours to extinguish did not claim any life, the shop owners who have lost all their belonging are staring at an uncertain future.
“I have lost everything to the fire. I don’t know how will I feed my family now,” said Tapas Biswas, who vended cosmetics in a make shift stall.
The fire-ravaged traders however can look up to their chief minister who has promised rehabilitation. “Although it is a nongovernmental market, there are many small traders who are poor and have lost everything in the fire. I have asked the (municipal) corporation to look into the matter and work towards their rehabilitation,” said Banerjee.
She was, however, critical of the spreading hawking stalls and said it not only caused inconvenience to the public at large but also resulted in congestion, hindering the fire brigade services.
Thursday’s fire was the third major such incident in Bengal over the last two days. On Wednesday, at least four people were injured in a fire at two hospitals. In December last year, a pre-dawn blaze at Kolkata’s AMRI hospital left 94 people dead. Most of them were patients who choked to death due to toxic smoke.