Over 110 shops reduced to ashes, Chandni Chowk traders say fire tragedy was waiting to happen

Dangling clusters of high-tension wires, narrow lanes hamper firefighting operations lasting overnight; traders’ body claims material worth over ₹80 cr. destroyed; area MP Khandelwal blames Delhi government for incident

Published - June 15, 2024 02:05 am IST - New Delhi

Over 110 shops were gutted in a massive fire at Old Katra Marwadi Market in the Chandni Chowk area as the firefighters struggled for close to 12 hours to douse the flames, officials said on Friday. DCP (North) Manoj K. Meena said the fire had started around 5 p.m. at the market located on Nai Sadak on Thursday. 

Delhi Fire Services (DFS) Deputy Chief Sanjay Tomar said it took more than 40 fire tenders and close to 150 firefighters to douse the blaze suspected to be caused by a short circuit in an air conditioner.

“The cooling operations are still under way and likely to continue till Saturday evening,” an official said, adding that the blaze could only be controlled by 4.30 a.m. on Friday.

Several traders said the damage on such a scale would not have occurred had the authorities removed dangling clusters of high-tension wires that hindered the movement of firefighters through narrow lanes.

Bhagwan Bansal, vice-president of the Delhi Hindustani Mercantile Association, said traders had requested the Delhi government and the Lieutenant-Governor’s office several times over it, but to no avail.

We had requested them to take these wires underground. Whenever a fire breaks out in the area, firefighters struggle to move in due to dangling wires. In a matter of just 15 minutes, a lot can happen. This time, we were able to save our lives but tragedies are waiting to happen. When will the authorities listen to us?” he said.

Sanchit Gupta, the owner of Rajdhani Saree Sadan, said his 50-year-old shop was reduced to ashes. “The fire started at the floors above our shop. We somehow managed to escape with our workers but lost everything,” he said.

Another shopkeeper said, “The major concern in the area is the high-tension wires that have increased over the years. Nobody tried to remove these.”

Mr. Tomar said managing crowd during such incidents is a major challenge in Chandni Chowk.

Weak structures

“The pedestrian movement is unmanageable. The other issue is weak structures. This leaves very little space for the movement,” he said.

Deepak Mahendru, president of the Nai Sadak Traders’ Welfare Association, said, “As far as I can see, material worth over ₹80 crore was destroyed.”

Area MP Praveen Khandelwal  blamed the Delhi government and the power distribution company — Bombay Suburban Electric Supply —for it. A discom official junked the charge. “The fire started from the fourth floor of a building. Our meters are installed on the ground floor and the power distribution network is intact,” he said. 

Mr. Khandelwal also met area shopkeepers and promised the removal of the wires.

Former Congress MP Jai Prakash Agarwal also visited the site. He said such incidents keep happening in Chandni Chowk but neither the Centre nor the Delhi government tried to find a solution to this problem.

Mr. Agarwal said narrow lanes hampers the movement of fire tenders. He demanded compensation to the shopkeepers impacted by the incident.

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