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700 shanties gutted in Kolkata fire
Publication Date : 17-03-2013
Over 2,500 people were rendered homeless after around 700 shanties in Maheshtala, Kolkata were gutted in a fire that broke out yesterday morning. This is the second such fire in the slum in the past five months.
Ten people, including chairman of the Mahestala Municipality Dulal Das, who is the father-in-law of Mayor Sovan Chatterjee and local Trinamul Congress councillor Dipika Dutta, were named in the FIR lodged by the victims. Locals allege a conspiracy between the accused and some builders to construct apartments on the plot.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee described the incident at Santoshpur-Maheshtala area as a "small" one . She assured that the state government would build homes for people whose shanties were gutted.
"The government will provide necessary relief and rehabilitation to the victims," she said while speaking at a programme to flag off 60 new fire tenders and hand over compensation amounting to 2 lakh rupees each to the family members of four victims of the Surya Sen market fire. (One lakh is equivalent to 100,000.)
Banerjee said the small fire tenders would be effective in dousing fires in congested areas. Fire and emergency services minister, Javed Khan, who had visited the Mahestala area yesterday, said that new shanties would be built for the victims in the same location. "The fire and emergency services department has ordered an inquiry into the matter," Khan said.
Leader of the Opposition, Dr Surjya Kanta Mishra, also visited the spot. He said that the fire seemed pre-planned, and urged the chief minister to take necessary steps to book the guilty.
Habibul Islam, a resident of the slum, said that the fire broke out around 3:30am following an explosion in Alauddin Sarkar’s shanty. The fire spread fast. No fatalities were reported in today's fire, unlike the fire on Nov 20, 2012, when an eight-year-old boy was killed.
Some local residents sprung into action to douse the flames, while other slum dwellers left their belongings as they scampered towards the railway tracks to save their lives. "We were asleep. Suddenly, we heard some people crying for help. I came out and found my adjacent slum up in flames. I just took my nine-month-old son and ran towards the railway tracks," said Nasima Bibi.
Fire engines, which arrived at the scene at 4:00am, were hindered by railway lines beyond which the slum lay. Train services on Majerhat–Budge Budge section was suspended from 4:50am to 8:55am, after which the fire brigade laid hosepipes over the railway lines to the slum, sources said. Sixteen fire tenders took around six hours to put out the fire. Train services in Sealdah-Budge Budge section were disrupted for a few hours as the locals took shelter on railway tracks.
The slum dwellers staged several demonstrations in the area demanding arrest of the chairman, alleging that he was hand in glove with some local realtors.
Brushing aside these allegations, Dulal Das, chairman of Mahestala Municipality, explained how he had taken the lead in constructing 1,184 flats to rehabilitate the slum dwellers.
Nasiruddin Naskar, a slum dweller, said there was a scuffle in the area last night over the preparation of the list to allot flats and today's fire was related to that.
Police detained five persons named Ayub Gazi, Rezzak Gazi, Momena Bibi, Saiful Mollah and Sahana Bibi. Rezzak, Momena and Sahana are relatives of Rafique, who is believed to be a close associate of the chairman and against whom a complaint was lodged after a fire broke out on Nov 20, 2012. Rafique is still at large.