Thirteen people were killed when a fire broke out in a garment shop in Sodepur, near Kolkata. Most of the victims suffocated to death with the exit being blocked as some workers pulled the shutters down after the fire started. Firemen and police broke open a door and rescued the people trapped inside. Over 35 people and six firemen fell ill because of the smoke
The fire apparently broke out at around 11.30 am. There was construction work going on in the first floor of the shop. “I was at the cash counter when a spark from the welding machine flew towards us. A portion of the roof, which was covered with a tarpaulin sheet, caught fire. There was smoke all around. I was not being able to breathe. I somehow managed to jump out,” said staff member Nitai Biswas.
Eyewitnesses said that one of the owners, Jiban Saha, ran out of the shop as soon as the fire started. The other owner, Narayan Saha, and his son, Shankar, managed to get out later and fled. However, a relative of Narayan’s, 33-year-old Ranjana, was killed. She was the only woman who died.
“It was on the instructions of the owners that the shutters were pulled down leaving people inside to die. It was an inhuman act on their part. We are demanding that the owners be charged with murder,” said local resident Debashish Sarkar.
State fire minister Pratim Chatterjee said that teams from his department and the Central Forensic Sciences Laboratory had visited the spot to conduct investigations. A CID team also arrived at the spot.
CPI (M) MLA Gopal Bhattacharya claimed the owners had been told not carry out repairs in this manner. Investigation revealed that there is a case pending against the owners for extending the shop by filling up a portion of a pond.