Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday heaped praise on West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for her handling of the tragedy arising out of the fire at the AMRI speciality hospital, which has so far claimed 91 lives.

“No one can prevent such tragedies, but the way the Chief Minister has handled the situation with adeptness, courage and fortitude is laudable,” Mr. Mukherjee said. “We deeply appreciate this.” Mr. Mukherjee said this after formally briefing the media on a review-meeting on various banking issues pertaining to the eastern and northeastern regions.

The chairman of State Bank on India and several other banks and financial institutions participated in the meeting.

Mr. Mukherjee rushed to the accident-site and to the SSKM hospital (where the bodies were being kept) soon after his arrival in the city on Friday night and assured the State government that the Centre would stand by it in the hour of crisis. He lauded the role of the locals, who played a major role in rescue efforts.

Arriving at the site within hours of the incident, Ms. Banerjee took control of the entire rescue operations, shouting out orders on a hand-mike even as she went about controlling the surging crowds.

She asked policemen (who had recently faced flak after the Mograhat incident) not to resort to any lathi-charge to control the crowds. She appealed for calm and restraint and announced rewards for the “neighbourhood boys.”

Plan of action

The Chief Minister announced her plan of action there and then, saying that extending every form of support to the kith and kin of those affected by the mishap was top priority and post-mortems would be completed fast so that bodies could be handed over.

She also arranged for photographs to be taken of the victims and put up so that identification became easier and less heart-rending.

She offered to put up the relatives of out-station patients at the various guest houses, offering them money (out of the party funds) to tide over their misfortune and also by way of compensation, should there be any needy families.

Ms. Banerjee spent the entire day at the two hospitals attending to every minute matter.

Mr. Mukherjee also held a half-an-hour-long meeting with Ms. Banerjee. None of them was willing to divulge what transpired at the meeting.