A day after one of the worst fire accidents in the city, West Bengal officials discussed measures needed to equip the State to tackle such disasters better, while also trying to identify the owners of the heritage building on Park Street whose negligence in upkeep led to the loss of 24 lives.
Briefing the press after the hour-long meeting at the Secretariat on Wedensday, Home Secretary Ardhendu Sen said 10 people were still missing.
“Our immediate task is to clear the debris and search for the missing people,” he said, adding it would take at least three days to clear the rubble.
The government announced a compensation of Rs. 2 lakh to the next of kin each of the dead.
The seven-storey Stephen Court, where fire broke out on the fifth floor, had in all 280 flats and 400 offices.
To a question, Mr. Sen said, “It is an old building and if any portion is found to be in a dangerous condition, it would have to be demolished.”
Amid reports that firemen were hard put to battling Tuesday's blaze for want of proper equipment. Mr. Sen said, “It will have to be seen whether they need more helmets and fireproof jackets. The Chief Minister and the Fire Minister will finalise this issue.”
On the issue of the late arrival of a 70-metre ladder, causing anguish, Mr. Sen said it would have to be considered whether ladders could be kept at a central location within the precincts of the city. On Tuesday, ladders had to be brought from two destinations at least 10 km from the scene of accident.
Fire Minister Pratim Chatterjee had said the ladders needed a lot of storage space and took some 25 minutes to arrive on the scene.
Mr. Sen said fire engines arrived within 15 minutes of the police receiving the information. The fire headquarters are only half a kilometre away from the site of fire.
In the fire-hit building, there were unapproved structures which were subsequently regularised in 1984. The Forensic Department was examining the cause of the accident, Mr. Sen said.
Measures at Secretariat
Asked whether any measure was taken at the Secretariat, which is also a heritage building over 100 years old, Mr. Sen said some steps had been taken in recent times. These included removal of broken furniture, lying cluttered around the corridors of the three-storey building which also has an annexe. Fire hydrants were repaired.