On Thursday morning, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) began bringing down the top floors of the building in which 24 people died after a massive fire on Tuesday. Residents objected, and went to court to stop the demolition. Worried members of the Corporation say the fire-ravaged parts of Stephen Court are in precarious condition and could collapse. The residents union also alleges that their flats were being looted in the name of demolition.
Meanwhile, a Special Investigation Team has been formed by the West Bengal government to the probe the devastating fire, West Bengal Home Secretary announced it the in Writers' Building in Kolkata. Notification will be produced on Friday.
The fire allegedly began in the lift of the building, above the city's landmark confectionery shop, Flury's. Ten people are still missing.
A series of lapses prove that the six-storey Stephen Court turned within seconds into a death trap. In the West Bengal Assembly on Thursday, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee admitted, "The top two floors are illegal. We are investigating what the Kolkata Municipal Corporation's role was at that time, who is the owner of the building. The city has a coterie of illegal builders with whom the administration is involved. Unless we take tough steps against them, we cannot stop this. Exemplary punishment will be taken. The fire has taught the government to intervene in such situations immediately."
Bhattacharjee said the Municipal Corporation's own role will be investigated, along with that of the owner, Sanjay Bagadia, who is still missing. Caretakers Tarun Bagadia and Ram Shankar Singh were arrested on Wednesday.
Now under attack, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation insists that the top two floors had been regularized. In response to visible proof that these floors had exposed and ancient wires, and that exit routes were blocked, the Corporation, says, inexplicably, "There are 10 lakh buildings in the city, 800 are heritage...30 to 40 people cannot go to each and every building and check them for violations, this does not happen anywhere in the world."
The Corporation claims that after the top two floors were added, the owner paid a penalty, which legitimizes the construction, according to the city's laws.
As a special team of the Corporation began demolishing the damaged parts of the top fifth and sixth floors of the building, a section of the residents demonstrated demanding that they be allowed access to the building before the demolition began to collect their valuables.
The police and KMC officials had a tough time pacifying the demonstrators some of whom, including women, were seen lunging at the officials present to oversee the exercise.
A senior KMC official announced through a megaphone that only damaged parts of the fifth and sixth floor of the building, and not the entire two floors, would be pulled down.
He said the demolition became necessary as the fire-ravaged parts were in a precarious condition which might further endanger lives.