At least nine people were killed on Monday in a fire accident at the Eastern Railway Headquarters in Kolkata, The Hindu reported. The incident took place after a blaze broke out on the 13th floor of the 14-storied New Koilaghat building on Strand Road.
Seven people were killed on Monday, while two more bodies were recovered from the building on Tuesday morning, according to The Hindu.
Four of the nine victims have been identified as fire officials Girish Dey, Gaurav Bej, Aniruddha Jana and Biman Purakait, while one of the victims was Assistant Sub-Inspector of Police Amit Bhawal. Three railway officials – Deputy Chief Commercial Manager of Eastern Railway Partha Pratim Mondal, Security Officer Sanjay Sahani and railway employee Utpal Acharya – were also among those who died in the fire, The Hindu reported.
One Railway Protection Force official could not be identified, according to The Indian Express. The police, however, did not label the seven as “killed”, but as “missing”.
Fire Minister Sujit Bose told The Indian Express that those who died were going up in an elevator for search and rescue, adding that 25 fire engines were deployed to douse the blaze. He also said that an inquiry will be ordered into why the elevator was used, NDTV reported. “The SOP [Standard Operating Procedure] is not to use elevators in case of a fire,” he said.
The building houses zonal offices of Eastern Railway and South Eastern Railway. The fire, which erupted around 6.10 pm, is now under control and the cooling process is on, said minister Bose. The cause of the blaze is yet to be ascertained.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who also visited the spot, announced a Rs 10-lakh compensation and a government job for the families of the deceased, PTI reported.
“This is a railways property, railways has a responsibility,” she said, according to NDTV. “Railways was unable to provide a map of the building. I don’t want to do politics over the tragedy but no one from the railways has come to the site.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also expressed grief at the accident and announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh each for each of the families of those killed.
Meanwhile, Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal has set up a high-level committee to ascertain the cause of the fire. In a series of tweets, Goyal said that assistance has been provided by the Railways to the state government and that officials were working for rescue and relief efforts.
The Eastern Railways will also initiate an inquiry into the matter, according to The Indian Express. “Eastern Railway will conduct a top-level inquiry under the leadership of the chief safety officer,” the division’s Chief Public Relations Officer Kamal Deo Das told reporters.
An Eastern Railways spokesperson said that it will fully cooperate with fire brigade officials, PTI reported. Senior officials, including the Eastern Railway general manager, were present during the firefighting operation at the building on Monday evening, he said.
Families of deceased grief-stricken
Meanwhile, the families of the deceased were left grief-stricken. The wife of Assistant Sub-Inspector of Police Amit Bhawal told reporters that she was anxious as she could not contact her husband since 7.30 pm on Monday.
“I wanted to contact him after hearing the news of the fire in New Koilaghat building as the area falls under the jurisdiction of Hare Street police station,” she said. “But he was not reachable. I felt anxious but I couldn’t imagine he will not return.”
The woman said that she was first told Bhawal was taken to a government hospital in serious condition but was later informed her husband had died. Bhawal’s colleagues said that she was losing her consciousness frequently and is under medical observation.
The son of Railway officer Partha Sarathi Mondal had even approached the chief minister when she visited the spot on Monday night to help get news of his missing father.
Mondal’s son said that his family also tried to contact him on the phone but were unable to reach him. “I rushed to the place, but none could say anything about his whereabouts,” he added. “When the CM came to the spot at night I requested her to find out what had happened to my father. I later identified his badly burnt body at the hospital.”
Ramesh, the brother of Railway Security Officer Sanjay Sahani, said there was no news about his sibling till Tuesday morning. “Today, I was asked to come to SSKM [Seth Sukhlal Karnani Memorial] Hospital to identify his body,” Ramesh said. “He used to stay with a friend at a place in Kolkata.”
Politicians offer condolences
Meanwhile, various politicians offered condolences to the families of the deceased. In a tweet, the Congress said that the party was “deeply saddened” by the incident.
“Our condolences to the bereaved families and prayers with all those injured and recovering,” the party tweeted. “We urge Congress party members in Kolkata to extend a helping hand at this time of grief.”
Union Home Minister Amit Shah said that he was “anguished” and prayed for the speedy recovery of the bereaved families.
“Pained beyond words by the extremely tragic fire accident at a building in Kolkata,” President Ram Nath Kovind tweeted. “My deep sympathy and condolences for the bereaved families. I wish for speedy recovery of the injured.”
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik also expressed sadness. “Deeply saddened by the loss of lives in the tragic fire accident in Kolkata,” he tweeted. “My thoughts and prayers are with the bereaved families in the hour of grief and pray for the speedy recovery of those who are hospitalised.”
Bharatiya Janata Party’s Bengal co-incharge Amit Malviya blamed the state chief minister for the incident. He suggested that the state needs a “proactive” disaster management policy and should equip local bodies with fire fighting equipment and put in appropriate protocols.
“It also needs a transparent and efficient fire fighting policy, with mechanism to certify buildings for fire preparedness,” he tweeted. “Pishi [Mamata Banerjee] has failed Bengal!”