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AN early morning fire gutted about 700 shanties at 16 Bigha Bustee in Santoshpur area of Maheshtala in the outskirts of Kolkata on Saturday leaving more than 3,500 people homeless. There was no report of any casualty. This is the second incident of fire within four months at the same slum. On November 20 last year, a fire gutted 300 shanties and killed a toddler. Interestingly, both the times the fire began at the home of the same person — Rafique Mollah — leading to suspicion of a sabotage.
Shanty residents alleged that the chairman of Maheshtala Municipality, Dulal Das, a local Trinamool Congress leader, was behind razing the houses as a highrise project has been proposed to come up at the place. Interestingly, Das is the father-in-law of Kolkata Mayor Sovan Chatterjee.
After the slum dwellers filed a complaint with the police accusing sabotage and a "well-planned operation", an FIR was lodged against nine persons, including local Trinamool Congress councillor Deepika Dutta and Mollah. However, the FIR does not name Das. "Dulal Das' name has not been included in the FIR as he has only been referred to as 'the chairman'," said Tarak Nath Masant, OC of Maheshtala police station. Five persons have been arrested so far. Mollah is absconding, said police.
Das, however, brushed aside all the allegations. "There is a plan to build 1,184 houses here for slum dwellers. It is a part of the JNNURM scheme under the supervision of the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority. People who are dragging my name into this have their own vested interest," Das said, adding he was ready to face any inquiry into the incident.
Leader of Opposition Surya Kanta Mishra, who visited the place, also hinted that it could be a sabotage. "With fire breaking out in quick successions at this place, which has a high potential for realtors, we have reasons to believe that there is a conspiracy behind the scene," he said and demanded a probe.