20 months on, Stephen Court remains a black hole

20 months on, Stephen Court remains a black hole

They complain that government and fire officials have failed to learn any lessons from their tragedy and allege the bias towards big shops that operate out of the commercial-cum-residential complex has meant that fire safety norms are still being flouted.

"The big shops operating on the ground floor of Stephen Court had reopened after promising to put up all necessary fire safety measures within six months. But it's nearly two years. Nothing has been done. There is no proper fire exit nor are other measures in place," said a resident who is also a senior member of the Stephen Court Welfare Association.

He also vented his anger at the government for not forcing shops to implement fire safety norms.

"Is the government waiting for another tragedy to happen? When will they act against those shops? These shops are also lethargic about paying money for renovation," the resident told IANS on condition of anonymity.

The dreadful scenes of people jumping to their deaths and completely charred bodies - mainly of youngsters - being taken out in heaps from the gutted floors of the landmark British-era building in the heart of city March 23, 2010, are still fresh in the memory of many residents.

Several people trapped in the burning building jumped to their death as ill equipped rescuers and firemen failed to reach them.

The landmark shops and eateries -- Flurys, Music World, One Step Up and Peter Cat -- are open, and stand in stark contrast to the gloom that pervades in large parts of the building, constructed in 1910 by an Armenian, Stephen Arathoon.

"Nothing has changed in the last 20 months. Many things were promised. But nothing has been done by the government. The lift doesn't work. The top floors don't have any light," said D.K. Bibra, an optometrist who lives in the block under lift number three.

Bibra and his young son saved several lives March 23. They had to vacate the flat with his family, which includes his nonagenarian mother, after the fire but they are now back.

The fifth and sixth floors of the two blocks under lift numbers one and two faced the fury of the fire and are still a no-go area. Life is tough for those who have returned in the other two blocks, under lift numbers three and four.

Rajeev Butta, a doctor, also vented his anger at the government and fire officials.
"The government and Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) have done nothing in the last 20 months. We have spent our own money in fixing up wires. The meters are still down, we are using our own meters," Butta told IANS.

The landmark mansion still stands like a haunted house in the upmarket area, with the top floors mired in darkness.

"The officials ask us to do everything - from making concrete shaft lifts to other measures.
Why will we spend lakhs of rupees doing these things when there are mobile towers that are a fire hazard on the roof of the building? Why is KMC lethargic in bringing down those towers? Because it belongs to big mobile companies?" said Butta.

He asked why fire officials did not visit Stephen Court regularly to check safety measures.
"What for do we pay taxes? Neither fire officials nor KMC officials visit Stephen Court now.

Why is the government not forcing the shops to put in place fire safety measures?" he said.

Butta said the families which faced casualties also had to face a lot of harassment as they had to shift to other places and were not allowed to enter the building.

The government's failure in learning valuable lessons from the Stephen Court tragedy came out in open when 93 patients and staffers died in the fire at AMRI Hospital Friday. It has been revealed that the hospital was not following fire safety norms even after a warning from police and fire officials.

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