Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Fire Map of Kolkata: An Analysis of the Stephen Court Fire

Don't blame Sanjay Bagaria. He is the owner of Stephen Court, the building which caught fire in Park Street, Kolkata, where 24 hapless souls perished. Don't blame him for want of anyone else to blame. He was only doing what every one else has been doing. Only, unfortunately his building was the one that caught fire. What will change...the rates of the bribes to be paid to the Fire Service Inspectors for permissions...that is what will change...nothing else.
For decades we Kolkatans have gorged on breakfast at Flury's and Chelo Kebabs at Peter Cat, both in the Stephen Court complex and belched out appreciation and admiration for the cuisine with nary a glance at the death trap that the house has been for decades. And now when the inevitable has happened, we cry foul at the lack of firefighting facilities in the city. Folks, this is not about fire fighting - this is much more than all that. Stephen Court has become a symbol of what all can go wrong in a system of systems. Lets start at the very beginning...

Is Stephen Court a legal building? It probably started off as one - but was soon nibbled away into illegality. The building would probably have a large no of tenants/owners/residents/encroachers, some legal and mostly illegal. In typical Kolkata fashion of course they would be paying an obscenely low rent to the 'owner'. But of course it would be the responsibility of the 'owner' to take care of the fire fighting and safety issues of the building. After all he is the 'malik'. Most of the residents, never mind their legal status, would not even have bothered to express concern at the state of affairs. After all - cholche cholbe - and now 24 unfortunate ones have ' chole geche'. Like bullets, fires unfortunately cannot distinguish between people - other wise Sanjay Bagaria might have been the 25th victim, but like I say, why blame him alone, he was just making a living - or making a killing from the building. The point is, in any complex, it is every residents responsibility to ensure that adequate hue and cry is raised and interest taken in issues of safety, whether fire safety or other safety issues. Bagaria will get bail and fight a legal battle for the rest of his life - his life will go on - with an added irritation of having to visit the court now and then.

So how does a fire fighting plan work? The key is common sense and any sincere resident can make one and with a bit of cooperation from others, have a perfectly workable fire fighting plan in place. Prevention of fire, containing the fire and ensuring escape routes are in place and well marked is the key to it. Identification of fire hazards such as wires, illegal use of gas for commercial purposes, illegal installations, poor quality wiring, inadequate fire extinguishers, unservicable fire extinguishers, access for fire tenders, marking of fire exits; these are just some of the aspects which go into a fire fighting plan. The most important of these is the fire fighting drill - the rehearsal which ideally should be a monthly affair. I am sure all this is not rocket science and that many people are aware of this. The local administration in West Bengal is defunct - a testimony to the mismanagement of decades - and so it will have to be the Common Man who will have to fend for himself - or perish.

Will someone please prepare a Fire Map of Kolkata? The map will show the places, paras, bostis, buildings, most likely to catch fire based on the highest presence of fire hazards in these places, the access routes for the fire tenders and the heavy lift cranes (apparently there are only five) to these places, so that we can be prepared for the next fire. This would actually be useful to the Fire Department and the city planners for fighting the next fire. Of course it would be impossible to improve the access to these areas for fire tenders since that would involve breaking down shanties and illegal tea stalls which would cause another 'andolon'.


  1. I agree. The real andolon has to start from us common man. But the question is, will it?

  2. hello... hapi blogging... have a nice day! just visiting here....

  3. -> Monsoon Man: It will, that is for sure, but when? That is the question.

    -> Hapi: Thanks, I hope you enjoyed the visit.