Kolkata: While a devastating fire in a multi-storey market complex in Sealdah claimed at least 19 lives on Wednesday, political parties pointed fingers at rivals, engaging in the blame game.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee hinted at sabotage as the cause of the fire, even as two of her own party leaders were critical of her regime, accusing it of inaction.

Party MLA from Chowringhee Sikha Mitra claimed that she had earlier warned of an impending fire tragedy in the area, but no one paid her any heed. "I had written a letter to the chief whip of the party as well as city mayor (Sovon Chatterjee), stating that the area is so congested that in case of a fire, fire tenders would not be able to access the area," Mitra said.

"I had warned that a tragedy could happen any day, but there was no response. People time and again came to me with their grievances, seeking proper fire fighting arrangements in the market, but the administration did not pay heed," the distraught MLA said.

Banerjee, who on Wednesday visited the area and blamed the people for the lack of fire fighting infrastructure, said sabotage could not be ruled out.

"Why has this incident happened? There are so many inflammable objects there (in the market) that if anybody intentionally lit a small fire, it could turn into a major fire. There could be (a) conspiracy, sabotage. The probe will look into all aspects," Banerjee said, as she ordered a probe.

Rebel Trinamool MP Kabir Suman said that in spite of repeated fire tragedies in the city, the government was still to learn its lessons. "How many tragedies do we need, before the administration wakes up? There are many areas in the city which are virtual tinder boxes, waiting for a tragedy to happen," Suman told media persons.

Fire Services Minister Javed Khan who personally supervised fire-fighting operations on Wednesday morning claimed that the market was illegally constructed during the erstwhile Left Front regime.

Reacting to Khan's comment, Leader of Opposition in the West Bengal assembly Surjya Kanta Mishra said the priority at this time should be rescue operations, not the blame game."This is not the time to play the blame game. Immediate focus should be on rescuing people and initiating a probe as to why the tragedy happened," Mishra said.

If union minister Deepa Dasmunsi from the Congress demanded a judicial probe into the incident, party leader and MP Abdul Mannan said compensation of Rs.2 lakh announced by Banerjee to the kin of those killed in the fire was just not enough. Mannan said the compensation amount ought to be enhanced.

FIR to be filed

An FIR will be filed by the Fire Services Department for alleged negligence by the owners of the market complex in Sealdah which was gutted in a major fire on Wednesday leaving 19 people dead and 10 others injured.
"A case of negligence will be filed by the fire services department against the owners of the Surya Sen Market complex," West Bengal Fire Services minister Javed Khan said.
Stating that there were no fire-fighting arrangements in the building housing a godown and offices, he said "Installation of fire-fighting equipment is mandatory in high rises and market complexes."
He said that after the post-mortem examination of the bodies, there would a statutory inquiry and an FIR would be filed by the department.


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