Traders, fire service personnel trade charges of ‘negligence’
Barely 48 hours after the fire which gutted two shops in S.M. Street, shopkeepers and Fire and Rescue Service Department have begun trading charges of ‘negligence.’
The fire broke out in the congested alleys of Oasis Compound on the Moideen Pally Road of the street on May 11, exposing the lacunae in fire safety measures at the busiest retail hubs in the city. City Police Commissioner G. Sparjan Kumar said the fire engines could hardly make their way into the street, and a tragedy was averted in the nick of time.
In 2010, a major fire in the street had destroyed eight shops and goods worth over Rs.25 lakh.
Assistant Divisional Fire Officer, Kozhikode, Arun Bhaskar, said on Monday there are several reasons for the recurring fire accidents in S.M. Street. The traders’ refusal to change was a prime one.
“In S.M. Street and Valiyangadi most of the constructions are old. The shopkeepers load their stocks at every available space. Ten times their capacity is stocked in many shops. Goods are stacked even on staircases. On May 11 night, when we went to douse the fire, all stairs were loaded with packets,” he said.
“Often a sheet is tied in the narrow gaps between two shops, and a one-room business is started. Sidewalls along narrow alleyways are used as space to stock goods. It is so congested that fire-fighters have no access. The fire engines stop on the outer road and we often find the distance to the spot too lengthy for the hose. The shops are so closely spaced that a fire in one shop may lead to a chain effect,” he said.
Giving a ground view of the situation, Mr. Bhaskar said inflammable stocks are kept near plug points or meter boards and garbage is burnt with no regard for overhead power lines.
“We had given a letter with fire safety instructions to the traders. They agree with us about the importance of fire safety measures after a fire incident. But they just don’t seem to change,” Mr. Bhaskar said.
However, C.S. Natarrajan, secretary, S.M. Street Samrakshana Samithi, denied negligence on traders’ part, and blamed the officials for turning a blind eye to their plight.
“There was a pond in the street for fire emergencies. But it was filled. The town planning office has made no effort to re-establish such a fire safety measure. KSEB’s periodical inspections and overhead line maintenance have stopped. The Fire and Rescue Service Department used to do mandatory checks fire hydrants here. Now that too has stopped. Then, how can you blame the traders for negligence?” Mr. Natarajan said.
He said that “99 per cent” of the shops on the street had been re-wired. “Shops are leased on daily rent. Every time a new tenant comes, he changes the décor of the shop and the space undergoes a general overhaul,” Mr. Natarajan said.