Amid fears of a rising toll, the West Bengal government on Saturday announced that it would constitute a high-power committee to probe the March 23 fire, which engulfed two floors of a colonial building, Stephen Court, on Park Street here.
The official death toll has been put at 33 with the recovery of three bodies among the gutted ruins on the fifth floor, even as Fire department workers continued clearing the debris. The stench emanating from the debris has triggered apprehensions that the toll could go up.
Chief Secretary Ashok Mohan Chakraborti told journalists that the committee and its composition were likely to be announced next week. “It will probe whose carelessness caused the fire,” and whether the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) fulfilled its duties and obligations.
Home secretary Ardhendu Sen earlier said the two fire-ravaged upper floors had been built without requisite approvals, but were regularised in 1984.
4 still missing
Jawed Shamim, Kolkata city Deputy Commissioner of Police (Headquarters), told The Hindu: “The number of missing persons now stands at four. So we are expecting to recover four more bodies from the debris.”
The three bodies recovered on Saturday were charred beyond recognition and taken to the mortuary of the state-run SSKM Hospital. “The bodies would be kept there for two days for identification process. But if any of the bodies has more than one claimant, we will have to undertake DNA tests,” Mr. Shamim said.
Confusion over identity
Meanwhile, the agonising wait for family members of the dead or missing, continued on the hospital premises with confusion prevailing over the identity of the bodies. The charred and shrunken bodies have made even gender identification a problem.
To ascertain identity, hospital authorities started DNA profiling on Friday. Blood samples were collected from several claimants for the DNA test
At Stephen Court, residents were allowed to enter the building for an hour for the second consecutive day, to collect their belongings from their apartments which were not affected by the fire. Some of them, however, complained that several valuables were missing.
Demolition of the damaged portions of the two floors continued in the presence of the residents, and truckloads of debris were removed by civic workers.
The Calcutta High Court had, in a modified order, allowed the KMC on Friday to demolish the severely damaged portions in the presence of residents.