Kolkata Fire: Toll 24, More Missing, Two Arrested
With rescue workers discovering more charred remains, the death toll in the fire that broke out at Kolkata’s Stephen Court complex Tuesday spiraled to 24 on Wednesday, say media reports.
Taking note of the high number of casualties, the Fire Department has registered a first information report (FIR) against the owner of the building.
The report was filed under Indian Penal Code Section 304 (Culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and Section 11/C/113 of Fire Safety Act.
The police are reported to have arrested two of the building caretakers – Tarun Bagaria and Ram Shankar Singh. But, Sanjay Bagaria, the owner of the building, is still absconding.
Built nearly a-century-and-a-half ago, the Stephen Court now faces stringent criticism for inadequate fire safety measures in the complex.
Media reports say, forensic and fire officials – investigating the cause of the fire – have discovered the building – with haphazard power cables, wooden stairs and closed exits – to be a virtual tinderbox waiting for tragedy.
On Wednesday morning, charred remains of nearly 18 people were found at the threshold of a locked gate leading to the roof, said one.
The discovery stands a silent but strong testimony of the desperation with which those caught in the building must have tried to escape the flames and death.
Kolkata Police Commissioner Gautam Mohan Chakraborty confirmed that the casualties were high because the gate couldn’t be opened, said a post on the NDTV website.
While there is no official confirmation of the cause behind the inferno, speculations of the fire having erupted in an elevator shaft between the fifth and sixth floors, are rife.
Apart from those in the hospital and the deceased, over two dozen people are still missing, said the IBNLive website attributing the information to Commissioner Chakraborty.
Reports allege that the fifth and sixth floors of the heritage complex were illegally constructed but, later regularized and add that rescue operations were hindered as the firefighters were not given a building plan for the complex.
Police say the presence of the layout plan and a list of tenants could have helped save at least a few more lives.
Of the 12 bodies identified so far, one is that of a child.
Meanwhile, the West Bengal government has announced a Rs 2 lakh compensation for each victim and said it will bear all medical costs.
The Stephen Court fire rocked the Bengal Assembly Wednesday as Opposition members walked out in protest of what they alleged to be government’s mishandling of the incident and also sought the resignation of fire and emergency services minister Pratim Chatterjee.
With the focus at the Stephen Court now shifting to the removal of the debris and the death toll in the inferno threatening to spiral further, the blistered complex standing in the heart of Kolkata is a grim reminder of the human cost urban India continues to pay for the lackadaisical implementation of fire safety norms by real estate promoters and municipalities.