EOI DARJEELING, 23 Jul 2016: A building collapsed late Friday night in Butcher Busty, one of the most densely populated areas of Darjeeling town, claiming four lives and injuring seven others. Three are feared buried underneath the huge rubble of concrete and wood even as rescue efforts are in progress on a war-footing.
The building, a four storey concrete structure including a wooden attic on top, was located at Dr. Zakir Hussain Road in Ward 18 in the lower part of town. Built near a jhora with similar structures surrounding it, the building was said to be in a dilapidated condition.
According to area residents, the building collapsed at eleven in the night and at the time of the accident there were three tenants with families, totaling 15 in all. The owners, who lived on the top floor, had left for Siliguri in the morning.
On the first floor lived Rajesh Pariyar, a tailor by profession. He along with his wife Anita (35) and mother Amrita (65) died in the accident, while his daughter Anjali (10) was rescued alive with injuries and has been admitted at the
Darjeeling sadar hospital. Pariyar’s father Deepak escaped was not at home as he had gone for a pilgrimage and was supposed to arrive this morning.
Gulam Hussain (60), who lived on the second floor, survived but rescuers brought out the dead body of his daughter-in-law Umbi Habibi (27) alias Babli from underneath the debris late in the afternoon today. His son Abdul Salam (25), daughters Sabana Parveen (25) and Sabina Parveen (15), grandson Md. Faiyaz (2) and granddaughter Irfa Parveen (7) were rescued and shifted to hospital with injuries.
Another tenant, Allauddin Shah (25), who owns a curio shop in town, was also rescued but his mother Jamila Banu (65) and sisters Nasima Banu (35) and Sabina Kashmiri (40) are feared to be trapped.
Local residents were the first to react and start rescuing the victims trapped underneath the rubble. “I had chatted with Abdul Salam till 10.30pm after which he left for his house situated two buildings away. All of a sudden I heard a huge thud and a sound like lightning. I thought an electricity pole had fallen and ran to where the sound came from. I saw the building where Abdul lived was not there,” said Rishav Pradhan, a friend, who joined the rescue operation.
Pradhan is yet to get over the shocking experience and enormity of the tragedy. “My body became numb and my mind was in a state of complete blackout at first. However, I gathered courage and helped in the rescue operation with others and managed to safely pull out two of my friend’s sisters,” said the college student.
The building owners, Asoke Chhetri and his wife Munna, expressed profound grief. “We reached Darjeeling this morning upon hearing the news. We used to repair the building frequently but don’t know how this happened. We are equally sad for the loss of lives,” said Munna.
The police, army jawans and civil defence personnel conducted the rescue operation along with municipal workers, while the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) from Siliguri joined in the wee hours of the morning. According to the district administration, heavy machinery could not be used because of the narrow approach road. “We arrived at the spot and started rescue operations immediately. Since the roads were narrow we could not utilise heavy equipment. We had to manually rescue the trapped people,” said Amit Javalgi, the Darjeeling SP.
Anurag Srivastava, the Darjeeling district magistrate, said, “The state government has decided to grant ex-gratia compensation of Rs2 lakh to the next of kin of the deceased. Survivors with serious injuries will be given Rs1 lakh each while Rs10,000 is being given immediately to the family of the deceased for conducting funeral rites.”
Gorkhaland Territorial Administration chief executive Bimal Gurung also reached the accident spot and remained there till evening. “It is a tragedy and should not have happened. We have asked for an inquiry. The GTA will also provide Rs 2 lakh each to the family of those who died today,” he announced.
The town remained closed for the day following an appeal by residents of Butcher Busty but vehicular movement was not affected.
Meanwhile, the bodies of Nasima Banu, Jamila Banu and Sabina Kashmiri were recovered by the NDRF and rescue teams in the evening taking the death toll to seven. North Bengal Development minister Rabindranath Ghosh also reached the spot around five thirty in the evening. After taking stock of the situation, the minister said, “This was an unfortunate incident and I extend my grief. I was directed by chief minister Mamata Banerjee to visit the spot. The state government will be  compensating the families of the victims and those affected.”
Ghosh advised the local civic body and the GTA to take strong and proactive steps to identify old and dilapidated buildings in town to ensure such incidents did not recur. “The state government will extend all support to the municipality and the GTA in this regard,” he said.