Kolkata: Angry Kolkatans protested on the streets on Saturday as the AMRI Hospital blaze toll rose to 91 while West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee ordered a judicial probe into the worst fire tragedy in any hospital in India. A forensic probe, however, failed to take off.
A day after the pre-dawn inferno at the hospital`s Annexe-1 building in south Kolkata`s upscale Dhakuria area led to the loss of lives, mostly of sleeping patients, a lower court remanded seven directors of the high-cost medical facility in ten days` police custody.
"I have taken a decision to conduct a judicial probe which will run parallel to the inquiry under Joint Commissioner of Police (detective department) Damayanti Sen," Banerjee told media persons at the state secretariat, Writers` Buildings.
With another injured succumbing in the hospital`s main block adjacent to the fire-hit building, the death count has gone up to 91, the hospital said. Eighty nine of them were patients, and two nurses. A day ago, a senior hospital official had claimed three nurses had perished.
Bodies of six victims from Tripura and one from Bangladesh were flown home with the state government bearing the cost.
The Advanced Medicare & Research Institute (AMRI) Hospital Annexe 1 Saturday stood like a ghost building with shards of glasses and stone slabs strewn all around, soot and blood stained floors, the smell of death and smoke still in the air and fire brigade personnel on guard -- a grim reminder of the tragedy.
The state government has already sealed and cancelled the licence of the Annexe 1 block of the hospital - co-founded by the private Emami and Shrachi Groups along with the state government in 1996.
Forensic experts arrived for collecting samples, but had to return immediately as the basement from where the fire was said to have started, was still flooded. "We will return tomorrow (Sunday) after the water is drained out," said a team member.
Locals claimed a small fire had broken out in the premises Saturday morning, but the fire department did not confirm it.
The Kolkata Municipal Corporation officials pasted a notice for cancellation of trade licence.
Meanwhile, intellectuals, celebrities and commoners demanded exemplary punishment for the culprits and a mechanism to keep a tab on the working of private hospitals.
"The culprits should be given an exemplary punishment so that from next time, nobody even thinks of ignoring basic fire safety norms for saving some money," fashion designer Agnimitra Paul told a news agency.
"The government should prepare a mechanism to keep a tab on private hospitals who charge enormous amounts of money for treatment and that too by confusing people," writer Sirshendu Mukhopadhay said.
The AMRI directors, arrested Friday for offences including culpable homicide not amounting to murder which attracts a maximum punishment of a jail term up to ten years and fine, were brought to the Alipore chief judicial magistrate`s court under tight security. Hundreds of protesters outside the court premises demanded death penalty for them and lawyers vowed not to defend them.
The directors, including Shrachi Group chairman SK Todi and his counterpart in the Emami Group RS Goenka, were sent to ten days in police remand by CJM SM Shahnawaz Khan.
One of the seven directors, RS Agarwal, who was admitted to a private hospital Friday evening, could not be presented before the court. He is placed under arrest in the hospital.
Over 1,500 people - comprising doctors, nurses, healthcare staff, school and college children, social activists other professionals and pedestrians - walked silently hand in hand carrying aloft posters and banners with black borders from Golpark to the hospital about half a km away.
"Aar noi, AMRI-r moto PPP Model hospital (No more PPP model hospital like AMRI)", - said a poster.
The state government constituted two panels to check safety measures in the city buildings. Fire Minister Javed Khan said notices will be issued to those flouting the fire safety norms.
But amidst all these activities, the dead were not forgotten. Many citizens went near the hospital, lighting candles and leaving bouquets and garlands to pay heir respect to the souls who had died a painful and slow death.