Kolkata: At least 19 people were killed and four others sustained severe burn injuries when a fire engulfed a market housing a godown-cum-office complex in central Kolkata's Sealdah area early on Wednesday even as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee visited the spot and assured assistance to the victims and kins.
The Chief Minister, however, said 19 bodies were recovered from the building located in a congested area on Surya Sen Street.
Though the cause of the fire that broke out at Sealdah's Surya Sen market, is yet to be known, initial reports suggest majority of the people died due to suffocation while it is being presumed that the fire started from a short circuit.
Some of the victims were however charred to death.
The injured were rushed to state-run NRS and Medical College hospitals.
The death toll in the market fire in the Sealdah area of the city could rise with more people being trapped inside the shops. Some 50 shops were gutted in the accident and the fire has been brought under control.
The fire broke out at the building in city's Suriya Sen market early Wednesday at around 3.50 am. The victims were sleeping at that time, said the police. TV reports said that at least 30 people are still trapped inside.
According to a local resident, smoke could be spotted since 2:30 AM. Besides 25 fire engines, Disaster Management Group has also reached the spot.
The building has only one exit gate and therefore is causing a lot of hindrance in the rescue operations.
"It is a sad and unfortunate incident. We will conduct a high level inquiry and take action," said Mamata Banerjee after visiting the spot.
The chief minister said Kolkata's areas being unplanned, many godowns were present in the residential areas and that has made the situation grave.
She said for decades everything has developed in an unplanned way and unfortunately several plastic godowns were present in the residential quarters.
She announced Rs 2 lakh compensation for the dead and Rs 50,000/- for the injured.
She said an immediate survey would be done and she urged the people to not live in the same place where they run their plastic or similar business with inflammable materials.
Joint Commissioner of Police (Headquarters) Javed Shamim said the dead included a woman.
Fire Services Minister Javed Khan told PTI that six persons were brought out from the burning godown in an unconscious state by the firemen, who were trying to locate if others were trapped inside.
Khan said 26 fire tenders fought the blaze for over three hours to bring the situation under control.
Firemen and police personnel cordoned off the area to facilitate fire fighting operations.
"The fire is now under control," added the officer.
Reports indicate that the building is very old and the wiring inside the building could also be old. This could have been a cause for the fire.
However, the cause of the fire and the extent of damage were under investigation, police said.
Meamwhile, a blamegame has already begun over the Kolkata market fire. While 17 people have died, the fire minister who has been in charge of the department for over a year, has blamed the previous Left government for the disaster.
The fire minister says the accident is a result of Left misrule.
He said there was no fire safety arrangement in the market and blamed the market authorities for the lapse. "We will take action against the market authorities for not having any fire safety arrangement", the minister said.
To a question, he said the entire building housing the market was unauthorised and illegal and had come up during the previous Left Front regime.
The Suriya Sen market is a paper market.
FIR to be filed
An FIR will be filed by the Fire Services Department for alleged negligence by the owners of the market complex .
"A case of negligence will be filed by the fire services department against the owners of the Surya Sen Market complex," West Bengal Fire Services minister Javed Khan said.
Stating that there were no fire-fighting arrangements in the building housing a godown and offices, he said "Installation of fire-fighting equipment is mandatory in high rises and market complexes."
He said that after the post-mortem examination of the bodies, there would a statutory inquiry and an FIR would be filed by the department.
Victims' shouts alerted others of fire
Screams of people on fire broke the silence of the night in the congested Surya Sen Market complex in the city where a fire left labourers and shopkeepers dead.
Locals said they were alerted to the fire by shouts of the victims sleeping inside the complex.
"At around 3.45 AM when I came out of my house after hearing those screams, I saw flames coming out of window panes of the building with people shouting from the windows," Ranjit Hazra, a resident of the area, said.
Shopkeepers and locals said that lack of adequate fire-fighting mechanism and exit routes were responsible for the 19 deaths in the fire.
Suresh Agarwal, whose grocery shop in the market was reduced to cinders, said, "The market complex does not have any proper fire-fighting mechanism. The entire market has only one proper entry and exit route."
Another shop owner Dipak said the entire staircase of the market complex was blocked by goods belonging to shops.
State fire services minister Javed Khan said most of the people killed were either labourers working in the market complex or shop-owners who slept in their shops in the night.
Khan's views were endorsed by the governing body members of the market complex.
"Those who have died are mostly labourers, but a few of them were also shop owners. There was only one proper exit. There is an emergency exit but it has not been used for the last 10-15 years," Sushanta Ghosh, vice-chairman of the market, said.
"Actually most of the labourers who work in these shops are migrant labourers who sleep in the market during the night," Ghosh said.
According to Khan, about 200 shops situated in the ground and the first floor were gutted.
The five-storeyed building mainly housed shops and offices.
Ghosh said the fire first spotted on the ground floor worked its way up through the floors.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has ordered an inquiry into the incident.