The 2006 Kolkata leather factory fire refers to a deadly industrial fire that occurred in West Bengal, India, on November 22, 2006. A lightning rod for criticism of poor safety standards among the country's "sweat shops," the fire broke out in a leather bag factory located in the Tannix International, Topsia, in the South 24 Paragana district of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta).
The industrial fire claimed the lives of at least ten people unable to escape because the factory's doors had been illegally locked. Authorities, in response to local residents' angry criticism, admitted that the substandard emergency response to the accident. The fire underwent two separate investigations. One inquiry focused on the cause of the fire, while the other sought to determine criminal responsibility for the disaster as well as the operation of the illegal factory.
India has been rapidly developing since Independence in 1947. The development of Indian clean technology, the IT industry, has been remarkable. Thomas Friedman's best selling book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, shone light on India's rapid transition from a third world, underdeveloped country of nearly 1 billion people, a rapidly developing nation among the power players of the twenty-first century. The Kolkata Leather Factory Fire of 2006 reminded Indians, and the world, that India has many more steps to take. Steps have been taken on the national level in India to avoid the violation of the law by the city government and factory owners. The right to work in safe conditions is a basic right.
Initial investigations alleged that the leather bag factory site had been illegally operated factory. The factory had been located on the third floor of a four-story building that also hosted residential units. Investigators initially determined that the first and second floors of the structure housed additional illegal factories. Tenex Exports owned and operated the factory destroyed in the fire. Apparently, all of the people killed or injured in the fire slept in the factory at night, a normal situation in India. As noted earlier, the building had been located in the Tannix International, Topsia, in the South 24 Paragana district of Kolkata. The building had just one emergency exit. Forty workers had been housed in the structure at the time of the fire.
The fire broke out in the factory at around 2:30 IST, as workers slept nearby. Once they became aware of the blaze, the desperate workers found the factory's locked doors. Five fire tenders arrived on the scene of the fire. By the time they arrived, local residents had broken down two locked gates and rescued the workers. Rescue efforts had been delayed when an individual carrying keys to open the door nervously dropped them while attempting to open the gate. Ten people died by the time rescuers reached the factory's interior,  with a further eighteen seriously injured. Emergency medical teams transported the injured workers, many suffering from burns over 70 percent of their bodies, to the National Medical College and Hospital. Faced with a shortage of beds, the hospital placed the victims on the floor. Lacking an intensive burn care unit, the doctors had only ointments and saline drips available at the hospital to treat them. Arrangements made, the patients eventually moved to other hospitals. Local MLA Javed Khan later incorrectly reported the death toll at least twelve. The Rapid Action Force also deployed to maintain calm.
People living in the vicinity of the illegal factory said that the number of deaths might have been reduced had the fire service responded promptly. They claimed that the fire brigade failed to send personnel or equipment to the scene until more than an hour after the brigade first received word of the fire. Residents also claimed the fire service dispatched only after the police arrived and requested fire service backup. In addition, some on the scene reported an inadequate number of ambulances. The city's mayor, Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, admitted to that lapse the following morning. Complaints extended beyond the fire brigade's late response. Local people also complained that the victims should never have been taken to the Calcutta National Medical College. Rather, they should have been transported directly to hospitals with intensive burn units, residents said.
The mayor immediately launched an investigation to determine the cause of the fire as well as the reason the building had been locked from the outside. To that end, the KMC inspected the building. Although the investigators established no actual cause of the fire, they noted that large quantities of inflammable materials, such as adhesives, had been stored inside the building.
As noted earlier, a separate criminal investigation focused on the illegal factory itself. Almost all factories and homes in the area lack proper legal approval and authorization, and fail to follow building codes and sanctions. Initially, Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya said action would be taken against the owners of the factory and house, and Superintendent of Police of South 24 Parganas S.N. Gupta said that the owners of the building would be arrested. Investigation has shown that the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) issued notices to the building on three separate occasions, in 1988, 1989, and 1992. Yet, it took no further action. The KMC approved trade licenses for two businesses to operate from the building. The owner of the building, Khurshid Alam, has had a police complaint filed against him by the fire department for illegal construction charges. Mohammed Sagir Ahmed and Mohammed Asif, the owners of Tenex Exports, also face related charges. Both investigations are ongoing.
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