A massive fire broke out at the Chhatrapati Shivaji market in Pune early on Tuesday and destroyed at least 25 shops in the fish and chicken section of the market. Fire tenders from Pune Municipal Corporation and Pune Cantonment Board were rushed to the spot and the fire was brought under control within 40 minutes.
Pune’s Chief Fire Officer Prashant Ranpise said, “We received the call at the control room around 3.55 am. Within minutes, fire tenders from nearby fire stations were rushed to the spot. The fire was brought under control by 4.30 am.”
Officials said five fire tenders from Pune City Fire brigade and two more from Pune Cantonment were deployed.
Senior Inspector Ashok Kadam of Lashkar Police station said, “There were no casualties in the incident… The preliminary observations point to a short circuit. We have registered a case of fire incident and have launched an inquiry into its causes. To ascertain the cause, we have sought reports from electrical experts and fire brigade, and samples will be collected for chemical analysis. When our officer reached the spot and the fire had started spreading, he saw that the electrical wiring on an old wooden beam had caught fire. The fire tenders arrived in the meantime. The wooden beam subsequently caught fire and collapsed, which led to fire at the stalls. Groups of these stalls also share their refrigerators, which were also gutted.”
A preliminary inspection by Pune Cantonment Board (PCB) officials has found that the fire was due to an internal short circuit of a deep freezer at one of the stalls, which led to overheating and bursting of the compressor, leading to the fire.
“The roof is wooden and there are tin and tiles… the probable cause of the fire is electrical short circuit,” Amit Kumar, the CEO of PCB who is on leave presently, told The Indian Express.
PCB officials are in the process of estimating how much it will take to restore the heritage structure that would involve replacing the roofing and masonry wall. “The cost incurred would be not less than Rs 5 crore,” said a PCB official.
There is no Cantonment electricity connection in the premises of the fish and chicken section as it was disconnected by MSEDCL a year ago. Every shop or stall owner has their own electricity meter. “There was no short circuit of the Cantonment electricity connection,” said a PCB official. He pointed out that the structure would now be dangerous, and the burnt portions would have to be removed and the debris cleared.
When asked about the fire audit of the market and availability of fire safety equipment, Prakash Hasbe, chief fire officer for Pune Cantonment, said, “The fire audit was done and shopkeepers were duly instructed to adhere to all safety norms. Fire safety measures were in place. Primarily, a short circuit seems to be the cause. We will be submitting our incident report to police after due probe.”
Riyaz Shaikh, chief health superintendent of PCB who was at the site assessing the damage, said fish, chicken and other material lying at the stalls would cost around Rs 40 lakh.
Manzoor Nazir Shaikh, president of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Market Traders’ Association, said, “We have written a letter to Guardian Minister Ajit Pawar. After the lockdown, our businesses had just started coming back to normal, but the fire has caused a major setback. We have urged the guardian minister to make arrangements for the rehabilitation and aid of those who have suffered losses.”
Raosaheb Mhaske, who has been working at the marker for 45 years, saidd this is the first time fire has broken out here.
According to K Y Querishi, another worker at one of the stalls who has been working at the market since 47 years, vendors here get their fish from markets at Ganesh Peth, Mumbai and Ratnagiri thrice a day. “All our stock has been wiped out and we have stopped orders,” he said.
The market is located in the heart of the Cantonment and is a functional landmark that has been witness to various periods of history and changes taking place over the years. The market was conceived and built as a perishable goods market. The construction had commenced in July 1885 and was completed in July 1886.
In 2011-12, city-based architect and conservationist Kiran Kalamdani ,along with the Pune chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), was asked by the PCB to prepare an outline for the heritage revival of Shivaji market. A detailed plan had been submitted, which had warned that the market showed signs of distress and possible collapse. The report had also stressed on urgent intervention in aspects of health and hygiene, maintenance and management and architectural and structural repairs.
While PCB had addressed issues related to the health and hygiene conditions over the years, there were some recommendations related to conservation that are yet to be implemented.
Speaking about the history of Shivaji market, historian Pandurang Balkawade said, “The Peshwa era came to an end in 1818. The Peshwa rulers had given spaces for armies of Shinde and Holkar confederacies in areas known as Camp and Khadki now. As the British rulers took over Pune post 1818, they converted these Army camps into stations for their army establishments, hence today’s Camp and Khadki cantonment stations. As these stations grew, the need for various civic amenities for its occupants also grew. The market space that we now know as Shivaji market was constructed as a market for perishable items in the latter half of the 19th century like many other establishments, including the Ray market that we now refer to as Mandai.”
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