Fire-hit Stephen Court residents demand entry into building

Fire-hit Stephen Court residents demand entry into building

Homeless residents of Stephen Court passing their time at city pavement as the demolition work is in progress at the Stephen Court building, in Kolkata on Thursday. PTI

Men and women who lived in the century-old building in the heart of the city gathered outside the now sealed sprawling structure, but police refused to let them in fearing that parts of it could give away.

"This is ridiculous," screamed a woman resident. "They are saying they will demolish the top two floors tomorrow. If that happens, what about our belongings? At least now we can salvage something."

Anger was palpable after Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee admitted that the two top floors of the building had been constructed illegally. "What was the (Kolkata Municipal) corporation doing?" he asked.

The chief minister said that efforts were on to find out who had given the building owners permission to raise the height in the most prestigious part of Kolkata -- Park Street.
Residents who had escaped the Tuesday tragedy were not to be appeased. Some women squatted outside the building and sang devotional songs. A few tried to break the bamboo barricades put up around the building.

Demolition work underway at Stephen Court building in Kolkata on Thursday. PTIPolicemen kept their cool and pleaded with the protestors to turn back, saying entering the badly damaged building - now without water or power - could endanger their lives.
An agitated Lalit Malhotra, whose flat is on the second floor, said he wanted to go in as his home was intact. "I have to go in and get my belongings," said the man in his 70s.
The Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), whose workers were clearing the rubble alongside civil defence volunteers, put up big hoardings forbidding anybody from venturing inside.

"They are demolishing it. Who will rebuild our homes again?" cried a young man.
Kolkata Police Joint Commissioner Jawed Shamim said he understood the sentiments but was helpless. "The condition of the two top floors, which bore the brunt of the fire, is very bad. How can we allow anyone to enter?

"People will want to go to their homes. That is quite natural. They will be agitated also. But the rubble has to be cleared. Once the KMC gives the green signal, we will allow (entry)," Shamim told reporters.

Twenty-four people were killed and 20 others injured in the inferno at the commercial-cum-residential building that had 64 flats. The fire broke out in the afternoon and lasted for hours.

Some died when they jumped from higher floors to escaped the leaping flames. Most others were caught up in the flames unable to escape after finding the only fire exit shut and blocked. Their charred bodies were discovered Tuesday night and early Wednesday.
A dozen of the injured are in hospital with burns or fractures. At least 10 people who were in the complex remain missing.

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