Week after AMRI fire, anger still not doused

Week after AMRI fire, anger still not doused

While the investigation led by Joint Commissioner Damayanti Sen continues, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Thursday announced retired Calcutta High Court judge Tapan Mukherjee will lead the judicial inquiry which she had announced earlier.

Seven directors and two management personnel of the hospital are already behind bars.

"We have found in one of the board meetings, most probably in November, after the hospital had given an undertaking to fire department in September (to remove hazardous materials from basement), a resolution was taken to look into the issue of safety measures," Sen said.

Sen said investigation was on to find out the people among whom the resolution had been circulated. The police were also carefully looking at the duty roster to ascertain the doctors who were on duty that night and what role they played at the time of crisis.

The investigation has revealed that the centrally air-conditioned building did not have a vertical fire stop which could have prevented smoke from the basement reaching the upper floors.

In all centrally air-conditioned buildings, the maintenance shaft at every alternate floor is sealed off by the vertical fire stop, which prevents air from passing through and allows only cables carrying electric wires and the air-conditioning duct, Sen added.

The five-member fire department probe team also visited the premises while the forensic team continued collecting samples in its endeavour to establish the cause of the blaze.

The city police and Fire Services Minister Javed Khan have said the cause of the fire is yet to be established.

However, both Khan and Banerjee blamed the misuse of the basement by the hospital for the inferno becoming "deadly".

Since the fire affected the hospital's nuclear medicine facility, which triggered a fear of radiation, the government sought help from the Department of Atomic Energy's Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre (VECC) to monitor safety arrangements in and around places where radioactive materials were being used in the city, state Environment Minister Sudershan Ghosh Dastidar said.

VECC sources said the High Dose Radiation (HDR) therapy machine used for cancer treatment and located in the basement of the Annexe 1 building has been shifted to the premier nuclear science research centre for safe storage with no signs of radioactive leakage.

Like the fire-ravaged Annexe-1 and its adjoining annexe buildings, the main hospital located in South Kolkata's Dhakuria too bore a deserted look after the management suspended medical treatment temporarily -- hours after an altercation between the AMRI employees and the chief minister.

The remaining few patients have been shifted out to other medical care centres.

Fearing uncertainty after the government cancelled the licence of Annexe 1 and asked the management to stop admitting patients in any of the three buildings, the employees vented their anger on Banerjee by blaming her for their predicament which later culminated into a free for all melee between the hospital staff and the locals.

Several of the bereaved families face an uncertain future having lost their bread earners to the fire. The plight of those rescued alive is no less, as most of the records of their treatment have been destroyed, hampering further medical assistance.

Tripura's Paritosh Das continues his search for his brother -- one of the 140-odd patients undergoing treatment in the ill-fated hospital Nov 9.

"In spite of assurances from Banerjee, nothing has materialised till now," said Das, whose brother Santosh neither features in the list of dead nor those rescued. Banerjee had earlier assured him all help.

People cutting across all sections of society came together to pay tribute to the victims as well as expressed their anguish over the tragedy. Many claim it could have been averted had both the hospital and the government authorities been prudent in their approach.

The government arms -- police, fire brigade, health department -- and other monitoring agencies have fanned out across the state, pulling up errant hospitals and multi-storeyed buildings and threatening stern action if they do not conform to safety standards.

But it all may be too late now.

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