A major fire broke out at the Shastri Nagar slum colony adjoining platforms 1 and 2 of the Bandra railway station on Saturday night, disrupting train services on the Western Railway line. The fire brigade had rushed eight fire tenders to control the blaze that began at 8.15 pm. Though major disaster was averted and there was no casualty reported, it is an indicator of how these slum colonies, most of them with a majority of illegal hutments, are tinderboxes waiting to explode.

Slum colonies are adjacent to so many railway stations in the city. Congested and crowded beyond measure, they are also made of highly inflammable material at times. Because most of the hutments are packed so tightly together, in case of fires, it is very difficult for people to exit quickly. Consequently, it is also very tough for fire fighting personnel to access as the congested conditions make it difficult to get in, and precious minutes are lost while personnel are trying to douse the blaze.

Slum colonies proliferate around stations, in many cases the hutments are literally touching the wall of the railway tracks. We have seen in earlier cases, like in Bandra (E), that after a fire breaks out and hutments are burnt out, they are then rebuilt as two and three-storey cement structures, like pucca homes. Illegal hutment dwellers take advantage of the blaze and then, houses are built on the same site using cement. These are more difficult to dislodge than shanties and it is evident that the illegal dwellers have used the fire to their advantage.

One has to ensure that a similar thing does not happen in case of this fire. First of all, illegal hutments should not be allowed to come up. But in this way, the illegal slum dwellers capitalize on a dire situation and go on to build ‘pucca’ structures.

The authorities need to be extra vigilant now and see that any such moves are nipped in the bud. Once entrenched, there is little one can do to get rid of illegal dwellers.