18 dead in Kolkata fire, Mamata sniffs sabotage

Kolkata: At least 18 people were killed and over a dozen critically injured Wednesday when a fire broke out at a multi-storey market complex in the Sealdah area here. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee hinted at sabotage as a possible cause.

Banerjee has ordered an enquiry and announced compensation of Rs.2 lakh to the kin of each of the dead.

“The probe will be jointly done by the police, fire department and the municipal corporation, and a report is to be submitted in three days. On the basis of the report, action will be taken,” Banerjee said during her visit to the site.

Observing that the market was prone to fires because a large number of inflammable objects were stored there, she also hinted at sabotage: “Why has this incident happened? There are so many inflammable objects that if anybody lit a small fire, it could turn into a major fire. The probe will look into all aspects,” the chief minister said.

Describing the incident as unfortunate, Banerjee said the families of victims will be given Rs.2 lakh each as compensation.

“At least 18 persons have been killed in the fire so far,” an officer manning the city police control room said. Over a dozen critically injured people have been taken to hospitals.

The fire broke out at about 4 a.m. Wednesday at the market in central Kolkata, when many of the victims were asleep.

Twenty-six fire tenders rushed to the spot to douse the flames.

Fire brigade personnel scrambled to rescue people. Many are feared trapped inside the market, which houses shops and paper godowns.

Fire Services Minister Javed Khan said the complex in which the fire broke out was illegally constructed and most of the entry and exit gates were locked, resulting in people being trapped inside.

“We will take action against the market authorities for not having any fire safety arrangements,” Khan said.

Local people said the toll could rise, as many people remain trapped inside.

Leader of opposition in the West Bengal Assembly Surjya Kanta Mishra of the Communist Party of India demanded a probe into the incident.

“This is not the time to play the blame game. An immediate and impartial probe must be initiated into the matter and the administration must seriously look into how many buildings there are, which are vulnerable to fire, and take immediate action,” Mishra, who visited the site, said.


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