Hawkers who have been doing business on the pavements in front of the plush hotel for decades, have wormed their way to occupy up to three-fourth of the area, making it a fire hazard.
The Bagree Market fire has set the alarm bells ringing for the grande dame of Chowringhee, The Oberoi Grand.
Located in the heart of the central business district, the first major hotel to be acquired by Rai Bahadur M S Oberoi (founder of the Oberoi Group), the iconic property is expanding.
The Oberoi is investing Rs 100 crore in the property over the next 18 months to add 50 new rooms, which will take the total number of rooms to 259.
But hawkers, who have been doing business on the pavements in front of the plush hotel for decades, have wormed their way to occupy up to three-fourth of the area, making it a fire hazard.
“There are several buildings on Chowringhee under which there are hawkers. The hawkers are a fire hazard.
"Safety of the guests at The Oberoi Grand, Kolkata, is a concern as there are many hawkers on the arcade of the buildings,” said P R S Oberoi, executive chairman, The Oberoi Group.
Yet, the Oberoi Group is pumping in resources in what happens to be one of the top five-star 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 said.
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.
Such is the situation that some of the original shops at the Grand Arcade have also started encroaching onto the pavements with displays of their products, lest they lose space to hawkers.
The proliferation of hawkers has happened over the years - courtesy political patronage. It is now an issue plaguing Kolkata.
Oberoi had raised the issue with the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) on several occasions before the Bagree Market fire. Letters to the mayor had also gone unanswered.
Finally, in August, 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.
This prompted Mayor Sovan Chatterjee to take action. But, it was too little too late.
The only noticeable change is the plastic sheets, which earlier made up for walls for the hawkers, have given way to oversised umbrellas; the hawkers are but well ensconced in their space.
Oberoi had said in August, "I feel very sad when I come to Kolkata. The city has deteriorated. You cannot walk along 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."
The Burrabazar area, a business hub where Bagree Market is located, is always congested and access had become a problem.
This is one of the major reasons why it took so long for the fire tenders to douse the flames.
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 fire incidences.
The Firpo's Market was ravaged in a fire in 2002.
The New Market, also known as the Hogg Market, has witnessed two major fire accidents - once in 1985 and again in 2015.
Photograph: Kind courtesy, The Oberoi Grand, Kolkata