At Chandni Chowk, the usual scent of Old Delhi’s famed street food gave way to that of acrid smoke on Friday morning. On Thursday night, a short circuit set off a massive fire in the Bhagirath Palace market, near the Red Fort, which mostly comprises shops selling lights and electrical attachments. Traders estimated that at least 100 shops have been gutted.
According to the Delhi Fire Services (DFS), a call was received after the fire broke out in a store around 9.20 pm. As many as 31 fire tenders were dispatched to the site. Well into Friday, 22 fire tenders were still deployed for cooling operations even after the fire was brought under control. The presence of DFS’s remote firefighting robots was also noticeable at the spot.
DFS Chief Atul Garg said: “More than 200 personnel were deployed. Major concerns included weak structures, shortage of water, and narrow lanes. A building also started collapsing. We had to demolish some of the decorative stone pillars as it was slowing down the work, eating up about half an hour. Since there was a lot of material kept inside the stores, cooling operations went on till Friday.”
When The Indian Express visited the spot on Friday afternoon, local police had sealed off the lane, while shopkeepers observed the continuing operations. Commerce had stalled in the busy market, as the stores that escaped the fire, too, had closed shutters.
Local traders said the fire inflicted disastrous losses. According to Pradeep Kochar, senior vice-president of the Delhi Electrical Traders Association: “Though we have not been able to estimate the exact losses yet, at least 100 shops must have been gutted and goods worth crores destroyed. The efforts of 20-30 years of some people have gone up in smoke.”
He added, “Though my shop and others escaped as they were further up, we also feel the loss as these are the shops of our fellow traders.”
One trader directed his ire at the Delhi government and said: “The fire started because of a short circuit… you can see so many old wires hanging throughout the market. In some places, the fire spread across a gap of 10 feet. It could happen only because of these wires. What is the Delhi government doing? How many fires will happen like this?”
However, a BSES official said, “The old electricity network has been completely replaced. The incidents of short circuits and fires in this heavily congested area have not been on account of BSES… In many places, unused internet and TV cables have not been removed by the service providers, and they continue to be illegally strung across electricity poles and lead to mishaps. The congested and narrow lanes have cables and pipes of other civic agencies, including sewer and water lines, limiting the right of way available for shifting the overhead network underground.”