Survey to work out evacuation plan for people in congested areas

In view of a series of fire-related accidents — two on New Year Day itself — West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has sought people's cooperation and urged them to rectify mistakes, if any, in building plans and take steps to make business places fire-proof. She said the government was planning a survey to work out an evacuation plan for people living in congested, unplanned localities.

The incidents on Sunday came on the back of a minor accident in a restaurant on Park Street on Saturday and the December 9 AMRI hospital fire. These and last year's Stephen Court fire are a stark revelation that very few lessons have been learnt.

In a statement, she said: “You have to create awareness of this issue, take measures that would make you and your business safe — plan for alternative escape routes. And please do not misunderstand the government. The government does not have any vindictive attitude.”

Her statement is to be seen in the context of a feeling among some sections that the action against directors of the fire-ravaged AMRI stemmed from a vindictive approach taken by the government against businessmen, perceived to be close to the previous government. Most of the AMRI directors are now behind bars.

When contacted by a private television channel soon after the fire at Apeejay House, Ms. Banerjee said that while accidents could happen anytime, fires were dangerous for the speed with which they spread. One of the main aspects that needed to be attended to while planning the construction of a building was to have at least two alternative escape routes to be used during emergencies.

“While in the case of AMRI fire, patients died of suffocation as evacuation was problematic, in the case of the Stephen Court Fire on Park Street in March 2010, people were burnt alive as there was no alternative escape route,” Ms. Banerjee said.

Contingency planning

She said that the other steps that were necessary were installing close-circuit television cameras to watch for mischief-makers and to have adequate fire-fighting system. She had already held meetings to address this problem and a survey would be conducted to ask the owners of the buildings which had no contingency planning to put in place necessary measures.

“There are areas in the city like Garden Reach, Rajabazar and Tiljala which are totally unplanned,” the Chief Minister said.

Hawkers

She felt that hawkers of the city were tinderboxes waiting to be set alight. “They pose a hazard to themselves, to the people around and to the shops whose entrances they block. Our government is planning to re-organise them in a manner that will enable them to do business safely while enhancing the beauty of the cityscape. Proper plans are necessary so that disasters can be tackled with some planning. I seek the co operation of all in this regard,” she said.

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