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After Bagree market, Oberoi Grand raises fire alarm as squatters grab space

The two major access points of the hotel have been clogged by hawkers and squatters, who have wormed their way to occupy up to three-fourths of the area surrounding the property

Ishita Ayan Dutt  |  Kolkata 

Hawkers do cheek-by-jowl business at Kolkata's  Grand Hotel arcade. Photo: Subrata Majumder
Hawkers do cheek-by-jowl business at Kolkata’s Grand Hotel arcade. Photo: Subrata Majumder

The fire has set the alarm bells ringing for the grande dame of Chowringhee,

Located in the heart of the central business district, the first major hotel to be acquired by founder Rai Bahadur M S Oberoi, the iconic property is expanding.

The is investing Rs 1 billion in the property over the next 18 months to add 50 new rooms which will take the total number of rooms to 259.

But and squatters, who have been doing business along the pavements in front of the plush hotel for decades, have wormed their way to occupy up to three-fourths of the area making it a fire hazard.

"There are several buildings on Chowringhee under which there are The are a fire hazard. Safety of the guests at Kolkata is a concern as there are many hawkers on the arcade of the buildings," said P R S Oberoi, Executive Chairman, The

Yet, the Oberoi Group is pumping in resources in what happens to be one of the top deluxe hotels in the city with an average occupancy of 76 per cent.

"The area is prone to fire hazard, that is worrying us," an Oberoi official pointed out.

The hotel has two major access points: one from the Chowringhee side and the other from New Market. Both the points, however, are clogged by hawkers.

So much so, that some of the original shops at the have also started encroaching onto the pavements with displays of their products, lest they lose space to the hawkers.

The proliferation of hawkers has happened over the years courtesy political patronage and is now an issue that is plaguing Kolkata.

Oberoi had raised the issue of hawkers with the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) many times even before the fire. Letters to the mayor had also gone unanswered.

Finally, in August, when after the company's annual general meeting, P R S Oberoi publicly lamented how the city had deteriorated and made a particular reference to the hawker situation in front of the hotel, mayor Sovan Chatterjee, took some action. But it was too little too late.

The only noticeable change is that the plastic sheets that made up for the walls for the hawkers have given way to oversized umbrellas; the hawkers are but well ensconced in their space.

Oberoi had said back in August, "I feel very sad when I come to Kolkata. The city has deteriorated. You cannot walk on the streets. There is no city in the country where you have this problem. The central business district does not look clean. There is no pavement where you can walk."

One of the reasons why the fire in Bagree market, in the Burrabazar area, a business hub in Kolkata, had taken so long to be doused, was that the area was congested and access had become a problem. The Oberoi officials are apprehensive that a similar scenario is building up in front of the hotel as far as access is concerned.

What has added to the concern is that the area has had a history of fires. The Firpo's Market was ravaged in a fire in 2002; the New Market also known as the Hogg Market has seen two major fires: in 1985 and 2015.

First Published: Tue, October 02 2018. 23:56 IST