Kolkata: After burning for almost 100 hours, the 13-storeyed Nandaram Market is now a brooding, smoke-blackened shell that towers ominously over the city’s largest wholesale market, hardly resembling the piece of sought-after real estate it once was.
Living on the edge: Every possible space-corner, footpath, road-is blocked on Canning Street. (Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/ Mint)
Traders from Rajasthan, owning most shops in the market, told PTI the fire gutted property worth Rs1,000 crore, ruined 1,700 shops and affected the livelihood of 15,000 families. The blaze once again highlighted unsafe and unchecked buildings that host thriving hubs of business, in part why it is not possible to safely reconstruct these markets.
“This was not the first fire in the area and it will definitely not be the last,” said Om Prakash Agarwal, who had two shops and a godown in Kolkata’s tallest illegal structure, declared so by the Supreme Court in 1986. Hundreds of crores of rupees changed hands daily in pigeonhole-like offices called gaddis.
Sadly, the very nature of the bazaar and the way business is transacted here makes reconstruction an uphill task. Narrow winding streets leading to it means vehicles navigate the route to the market with difficulty, and getting firefighters there is “a Herculean task”, said Lt Col S.K. Vohra, deputy commandant of ammunition depot, Panagarh. He was one of the key men in charge of dousing the fire. And the market itself is crammed with synthetic as well as cotton garments, cooking gas cylinders, paints, varnishes and even camphor—a potent combination of highly flammable goods—as are many other such markets in this and other Indian cities.
Traders hook up for illegal power and monthly rents in older buildings are barely Rs15-20: hardly an incentive for landlords to make the buildings safe and secure. With the bulk of business transacted here often lacking a legal licence and the goods being uninsured, the government can easily afford to wash its hands of the mess, citing rules that weren’t observed and rampant violations.
For more photographs, click on the links below:
1. Trade worth crores is conducted in the narrow Bonfield Lane.
2. No power interruption here: a transformer exists without the minimum safe distance.
3. A derelict building on Rabindranath Sarani, a main road in the Burrabazar area.
Photographs by: Indranil Bhoumik/ Mint