Kolkata, Feb 27 (IANS) At least 19 people were killed in a devastating blaze at a market complex in the eastern metropolis Wednesday.
According to witnesses, the massive fire in the densely-populated Sealdah area began around 3:50 a.m. in the mezzanine floor of a multi-storey Surya Sen Market building and leapt up to the first and second floors where most of the victims were sleeping.
Hinting at a probable "sabotage", West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee ordered an inquiry into the tragedy.
The steady stream of soot-smeared bodies being taken out of the fire-ravaged building bore an eerie resemblance to the AMRI Hospital fire tragedy Dec 9, 2011, where too a pre-dawn blaze choked to death 94 people, mostly critically ill patients.
If Fire Services Minister Javed Khan put the blame of the fire on the "illegal building constructed during erstwhile Left Front regime", Banerjee sniffed a "conspiracy".
"Why has this incident happened? There are so many inflammable objects there (in the market) that if anybody intentionally lit a small fire, it could turn into a major fire. There could be (a) conspiracy, sabotage. The probe will look into all aspects," the chief minister said.
Banerjee also announced a compensation of Rs.2 lakh each to the kin of the dead and Rs.50,000 for the injured.
As 26 fire tenders battled to douse the flames, politicians got busy playing the blame game and pointing fingers at rivals.
"Why is the Trinamool (Congress) government blaming the former government? The tragedy has happened during their rule and they are responsible for it," Congress MP Deepa Dasmunsi said.
Opposition Left Front too joined in, asking the state government not to indulge in blame game and try gaining mileage from the tragic incident.
Banerjee even faced attack from two disgruntled party members who lashed out at their own Trinamool Congress government.
If rebel MP Kabir Suman accused the government of not learning lessons despite repeated tragedies, party legislator from Chowringhee Sikha Mitra claimed she had warned of an impending fire tragedy in the area but no one paid heed.
The fire not only claimed breadwinners of 19 families but also snatched away livelihood of many.
"I had stocked medicines worth over Rs.25 lakh there. All that is gone now. I'm completely ruined. My family has no other way but to beg now," said a chemist shop owner.
Similar was the story of over 50 families who lost their livelihood in the blaze which took more than nine hours to be put out.
Like most tragedies, this one too threw up heroes who displayed extraordinary courage and staked their lives to save others.
Braving thick smoke and raging fire, many broke windowpanes and doors to save the trapped people and materials.
Doctors at N.R.S. Medical College and Hospital and Calcutta Medical College where the fire victims were taken to, said most died due to suffocation.
"Some of them were charred to death, but a majority of them died due to suffocation," said a doctor.
As the bodies were brought to a morgue after post-mortem, family members cried inconsolably while Banerjee ensured that the bodies were promptly handed over to the kin.
While 15 of the dead have been identified, identity of four bodies is yet to be established.
This is the third major fire in city in three years.
On March 23, 2010, a blaze in the iconic Stephen Court building in Park Street snuffed out 43 lives.