A lock sealed their fate
Tuesday night, when fire brigade personnel entered the burnt-out fifth, sixth and seventh floors of Stephen Court on Park Street, they stumbled upon 17 bodies huddled on the top-floor staircase.kolkata Updated: Mar 25, 2010 00:03 IST
Tuesday night, when fire brigade personnel entered the burnt-out fifth, sixth and seventh floors of Stephen Court on Park Street, they stumbled upon 17 bodies huddled on the top-floor staircase.
They were trying to get to the roof to escape death, but could not break a door. For, residents had put a lock on the door to stop trespassers.
Neither building-owner Sanjay Bagaria, nor caretakers Tarun Bagaria and Ram Shankar ever thought of keeping an escape route open in case of fire. The police have arrested the caretakers, but the owner is absconding.
“The three top floors were illegally constructed, but were later regularised,” said Kolkata police Commissioner Gautam Mohan Chakravarty on Wednesday morning.
Wednesday evening, 24 bodies — wrapped in black polythene sheets — were brought out of Stephen Court, while another 10 may still be waiting to be taken out.
“Four bodies remain ‘disputed’, as they have several claimants. Twelve people were admitted in hospitals across the city till Wednesday evening,” said a senior police official.
On the cause the fire, Assistant Commissioner of Police (bomb squad) Dipak Dutta said, “Welding of an iron grill on the fifth floor and air-conditioners put a lot of load on the electrical system. That might have triggered a short circuit.”
Dutta and director of the state forensic laboratory Dhurjati Sengupta and Director General of Fire Services visited the spot on Wednesday morning with Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee said at the state secretariat: “If such fires occur, people will die.”
“We don’t have nets,” said a nonchalant Chatterjee when asked why the fire services personnel did not bring nets that could have allowed people to jump from the windows. Three people were seen jumping to escape the flames.
But the department must have cushions, which also could be used to save people. Chatterjee said, “Yes, we do have cushions. But they were not brought to the spot.”