Kolkata fire: Caretaker, assistant in 14-day custody

A notice informing public about demolition work hangs on the gates of the Stephen Court building in Kolkata on Thursday

The caretaker of the fire-ravaged heritage building on Park Street and his assistant were on Thursday remanded to 14-day police custody as the blame game intensified with the Chief Minister warning civic officials of stern action over the ‘racket’ in illegal constructions.

Tarun Bagadia, the caretaker of Stephen Court, and his assistant Ramshankar Singh, arrested on negligence and other charges, were sent to police custody by a court of the chief metropolitan magistrate.

Acting on a petition, the Calcutta High Court granted interim stay on the demolition of any portion of the 150-year-old Stephen Court.

Debraj Sharma and other residents of Stephen Court submitted that the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, in the name of demolishing the two top floors of the building, was destroying their property and not allowing them to enter.

The fire that broke out on Tuesday claimed 24 lives.

While Fire Services Minister Pratim Chatterjee put the number of missing at 24, Kolkata Police Commissioner Gautam Mohan Chakraborty said 12-15 people were untraceable.

Buddhadeb talks tough

Facing public outrage over the absence of safety norms, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee accused the civic administration of being hand in glove with the ‘coterie’ of illegal builders.

“The top floors of Stephen Court are illegal. We are investigating what the KMC’s role was at that time…The city has a coterie of illegal builders with whom the administration is involved. Exemplary punishment will be given. The fire has taught the government to intervene in such situations immediately,” he said in the State Assembly.

He went on to say that “a racket is working” in connivance with a section of the administration.

Search still on

Firemen continued search for the third day for those missing after the fire in the building as a stench was coming from the rubble on the upper floors.

“We can’t rule out more bodies as debris is yet to be cleared,” a fire brigade official said.

The residents demanded that they be allowed into the building, which was out of bounds for them, to collect their valuables.

The police and KMC officials had a tough time in facing the demonstrators, who included women with some lunging at the officials. “Save our houses. Don’t demolish them,” read one of the posters of the demonstrators.

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