FIFTEEN DAYS ago, when Yanchen (59) set up a hosiery shop in the newly allotted market space for Tibetan refugees next to Red Fort, she prayed for brisk business to repay her Rs 13 lakh loan and save enough for the whole year. With winter setting in early, many customers had been making a beeline for her shop, she said.
On Tuesday afternoon a grief-stricken Yanchen sat with her children near what was left of her shop. A major fire had broken out in the Tibetan market in the early hours of Tuesday, allegedly due to a short circuit. As many as 138 shops, including Yanchen’s, were gutted in the blaze.
“I took a credit of Rs 13 lakh from a shop in Ludhiana and thought to make a good profit this year. Unlike last year, winter set in early this time and business was picking up. The savings from the sales could have helped my family survive for the next one year,” she said.
Like Yanchen, scores of shopkeepers sat amid the rubble and sheets of asbestos contemplating what to do next. All 138 families, who have come from Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, said they had taken the products on credit from hosiery shops in Ludhiana.
Every year, they set up shops in the area for four months — from October till February. But this was the first time a space was allotted to them near the Red Fort by the Tibetan Refugee Woollen Association of Delhi.
The guards posted at the market said the fire broke out between 12.30 and 1 am. One of the guards, Sonu Mohammad, said the flames spread quickly and burnt down the market in half-an-hour.
Tenzin (54), who comes to Delhi every winter from Himachal Pradesh, said he received a call from his friend that his shop had caught fire. By the time he reached the spot, everything was burning. “The woollen clothes seem to have helped the flames spread. All we could do was watch,” he said.
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Appealing to the Delhi government to help the refugees, association vice-president Sonam said, “We Tibetans don’t own land nor do we have any money. We survive every year on the money we get after selling woollen clothes. The loss here is in crores. We request the government to help us.”
He added that the association had paid Rs 8 lakh to the MCD for the whole season to use the area and that all precautions and safety measures were in place.
A Delhi Fire Service official said, “We received a call about the fire at 1.10 am. Seven fire tenders were rushed to the spot and the flames were doused by 4 am. No casualties were reported.”
Deputy Commissioner of Police (central) M S Randhawa said, “We have registered an FIR under Section 436 of the IPC (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house, etc.) and have initiated a probe into the matter.”
A day earlier, as many as 350 huts were gutted in a blaze in Old Delhi’s Sadar Bazar area, leaving hundreds homeless.