Kolkata fire: 26 dead, 2 arrested

Last Updated: Wednesday, March 24, 2010 - 19:19

Kolkata: Eight more bodies were recovered from the 150-year-old heritage building on upscale Park Street, raising the toll in the devastating fire that swept the
complex to 26 with another 29 reported missing as the blaze
was brought under control Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, sources have said that an FIR has been filed and the police have claimed to have made two arrests in this connection. Building caretakers Arun Bagadia and Shanker Singh who were detained earlier in the day for questioning have been nabbed.

Firefighters, who began search operations from the top
floor of the seven-storey building `Stephen Court` housing
restaurants, offices and residences, said the bodies were
recovered from the fifth and sixth floors.

Smoke was billowing out from two pockets on the top
floors which caught fire yesterday afternoon, but the blaze
was under complete control, fire officials said.

So far, six of the dead have been identified, while 20
injured have been admitted to hospitals.

Preliminary investigations indicated that the fire may
have broken out due to a short circuit in a lift between the
fifth and sixth floors.

A single lane of Park Street which was entirely closed
to traffic after the fire, was reopened this morning as a
number of shops around the building were back to business.

"We are waiting for the forensic team. Once they visit
the building and collect samples, we will escort the residents
back so that they can collect their belongings," a police
officer said.

"Please leave us alone. We are lucky to have escaped
with our lives. We are in no mood to speak," said a resident,
who along with other inmates was still recovering from the

West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee
visited the building for 10 minutes on his way to the State

Police Commissioner Goutam Mohan Chakraborty told
newsmen later that the chief minister had instructed the
police and the fire brigade to quickly rescue anyone trapped
inside and asked the Kolkata Municipal Corporation to pull
down the damaged portion of the building.

Chakraborty said there was hardly any possibility of
anyone remaining alive in the affected portion of the building
and the fire brigade was still looking for bodies.

Houses and offices on the top floor were the worst-
affected. Computers, air-conditioners, office furniture and
household belongings were completely burnt in the raging fire.

The state government had yesterday ordered evacuation
of the building. Home Secretary Ardhendu Sen said the
occupants would be allowed to return only after obtaining
clearance from the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.

Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya said the burnt
portion of the building would be pulled down.

The police commissioner said, "The fifth and sixth
floors of the building were constructed illegally. These were
later regularised."

Rescue operations were hampered as the police and fire
brigade were not provided with the building plan, police
commissioner said.

"We had asked the building association president for a
plan of the building and a list of tenants, but these were not
provided to us. If we had the list, we could have saved some
more people," he said.

A number of people tried to escape through the roof of
the building, but could not do so as the gate was locked, he

Fire brigade sources said that the blaze could have
been possibly caused by a leak in a power cable of the
building`s elevator and could have spread through rubber and
plastic cables to upper floors.

Stephen Court has four blocks and a common terrace, and
the main stairs in the building were made of wood which were
gutted as the fire spread.

According to records with the Kolkata Municipal
Corporation, there is one official trustee of the building
along with 45 apportioned share holders.

KMC has declared Stephen Court as a Grade-II heritage
building for its architectural value.

The two top floors, where the fire broke out, were
added in 1984 and have 32 apartments.


First Published: Wednesday, March 24, 2010 - 19:19

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