Asansol mayor heckled during fire safety drill

Mayor Asansol faces the ire of angry traders

Asansol Mayor and local MLA, Mr. Tapas Banerjee faced protest from traders of Asansol market yesterday. Traders at an Asansol market gheraoed and detained the mayor and fire brigade officials for an hour when they went to inspect fire-safety measures in the wake of the blaze at Calcutta’s Surya Sen Market on Wednesday. Mayor Tapas Banerjee, fire official Selim Javed and about a dozen officials had gone to the four-decade-old market for a surprise inspection around 11am
The traders at Pucca Bazaar of Asansol alleged that every time a big fire took place in Calcutta, the authorities in Asansol begin inspection drives but “nothing definite and concrete happens thereafter” to bring to book those market owners who violate fire-safety norms. “Why have you come here again to stage a drama in the name of inspection when you will do nothing to ensure fire-safety rules. Every time a big fire breaks out in Calcutta or elsewhere, you people visit the markets here for inspections. But, there are no follow-ups and you forget all about it. We are not fools. Why are you affecting our business by creating a ruckus?” said Rezaul Islam, a hardware shop owner at Pucca Bazaar.
“At a time when we were busy with customers, the mayor and his team with fire engine and firemen came from nowhere and were trying to spoil our business. It is not as if the shops came up yesterday. Why were steps not taken earlier? The fire officials and the mayor last visited our market after the fire at AMRI Hospitals in 2011. After that they disappeared and no steps were taken to find out whether there was any violation of fire-safety rules,” said Mohammad Niaz, who runs a chicken shop at the market that blocks most of the street.
Fire officials, however, said a section of traders who had built shops flouting rules tried to “foil” the inspection.
The officials had brought a fire engine to find out whether the entrance to the market was wide enough for evacuation during a blaze. But as the street to the market has been narrowed by encroachment, the fire engine could not proceed.
As the fire fighters and civic body employees started demolishing the makeshift constructions and corrugated shades that blocked the entry of the fire engine, the traders at Pucca Bazaar became angry and pushed the mayor. The police rescued the mayor and the fire officials around noon and the drive was stopped for the day.
An official said Pucca Bazaar did not have an underground water reservoir, hosepipes and automatic water sprinklers. The alleys and staircases are narrow and inadequate exits. He said many markets in the area did not have municipality and fire department licenses.
Meanwhile Asansol mayor has already formed a special committee to look into the fire safely aspect at various locations in Asansol and specially Asansol Bazaar. The committee has also had its first meeting on Thursday. However the residents of Asansol are skeptical as to whether can be done considering the congested condition of Asansol market and encroachment.
Mayor Tapas Banerjee, fire official Selim Javed and about a dozen officials had gone to the four-decade-old market for a surprise inspection around 11am. The officials had brought a fire engine to find out whether the entrance to the market was wide enough for evacuation during a blaze. But as the street to the market has become narrow with encroachment, the fire engine could not proceed.
Mayor Banerjee said the municipality only issued trade licenses to the traders and the fire department would have to look after safety measures. “We have repeatedly told the traders and the local chambers of commerce to install safety measures but they do not pay any heed,” he said.
Fire official Javed admitted that private markets were running without fire licenses. “We advise the shopkeepers to maintain proper fire-safety measures but they do not listen to us,” he said. Javed refused comment when asked why he did not close down the markets running without fire license.

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