The shops included two apparel stores and a bookstore, and the three godowns were located below them. Located on BM Chatterjee Road, popularly known as Daroga Bazaar, the establishments were totally gutted by the fire. Although there was no loss of life, goods worth lakhs of rupees were destroyed.
The three shops and godowns along with four other neighbouring stores dealt in clothing and stationery and are housed in ‘P’ Building, a two-storey structure owned by the Darjeeling municipality. The building is partly wooden and partly concrete.
According to locals, the fire started around 1.30am on Wednesday morning from a store where furniture items had been kept. Six fire tenders were pressed into service, and with help from the locals, the blaze was brought under control around 6:00am. “We managed to douse the fire only by six in the morning. Water was available but the congestion and narrowness of the approach road obstructed smooth execution of work. Fortunately, we managed to contain the fire and it did not spread to adjacent structures. We are yet to ascertain the cause though,” said Bharat Lama, and officer with the Darjeeling Sadar fire station.
|Fire guts shops in heart of Darjeeling town|
“We heard a huge explosion that shook our rooms. Fearing an earthquake, we tried to get out of our house, but surprisingly the door was latched from outside. We had to break the glass pane and unlock the door,” said Bikash Bhitrikotey, one of the residents of ‘C’ Building. Echoing him, another resident named Lhamin Sherpa said, “How come were the doors of our rooms latched from outside? The door of the furniture godown was open so late in the night and we could smell kerosene oil everywhere. Hence, we strongly suspect it was a deliberate plan to demolish our building.”
Following the April 2015 earthquake and continuous aftershocks, the civic body carried out a survey of old buildings that included the ‘C’ Building. It had decided to dismantle the existing structure and build a four-storey building. However, the project is yet to start. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior municipality official said discussions had failed with the residents of ‘C’ Building due to which the new structure project had to be shelved. “We had several rounds of talks with the residents. They wanted not only rehabilitation but also livelihood means as the building houses both residential and commercial spaces. Since we did not have such provisions, we decided against going ahead with the project,” he said.
Darjeeling Municipality chairman Amar Singh Rai visited the accident spot as soon as he was informed and said a report would be submitted to the state government while and an inquiry launched to look into the allegations. “A survey and assessment of the damage will be conducted and submitted to the government at the earliest,” he said.
Darjeeling SP Amit Javalgi said, “The fire started from one of the godowns located below the shops, but we do not know the cause at this point in time. Incidents of arson and sabotage usually do not occur here but we will conduct an investigation all the same.”