Demand intensifies for NIA probe into Kozhikode fire

via VR Jayaraj | Kozhikode - Daily Pioneer published on December 29, 2009

Even as the National Investigation Agency (NIA) took over the probe into two more terror-related cases in Kerala, the demand for an NIA investigation into the fire that consumed eight lives and property worth crores of rupees on April 5, 2007 at the SM Street in Kozhikode city.

A section of the society in Kozhikode is of the opinion that the hands of some terror outfit behind the incident could not be ruled as the two probes held has not been able to conclusively prove the reason for the fire. Also, there were stunning differences between the conclusions of the examinations held by the Central and State forensic wings.

According to Suibhash Babu, former Superintendent of Police, the probes by both the local police as well as the Crime Branch have not been able to establish how the fire broke out in the cracker shop. In that context, he says, it would be more appropriate if the NIA, investigating the other terror-related cases, looked into this as well.

The incident was first investigated by the local police and later by the Crime Branch of the Kerala Police. While the Crime Branch had almost completed the probe and was about to file the chargesheet, the Anti-Terror Squad of the Karnataka Police, came forward with some suggestions about the possibility of extremists’ involvement in the incident. This led to a reinvestigation of the case, but this also has come to a standstill now.

Shop-owners and workers on the SM Street and surroundings still say that there were several mysteries behind the fire tragedy. Apart from the fact that the exact cause of fire has not yet been found, the police had recovered the debris of some detonators from the fire site, which could in no way be an article being sold at the fire-crackers shop where crackers for Vishu festival were being sold.

The people in the area had heard the sound of two huge explosions as fire raged through the street, swallowing more than 30 shops. Even the police had admitted that the cracker shop could not have been keeping any item that could have produced such sound. Apart from that an explosion had hurled a concrete beam weighing several quintals to a distance of up to 100 metres.

The local people are of the opinion that a comprehensive probe by a Central agency is necessary to bring out the truth behind the fire. The merchants who had lost their shops in the fire have reorganized their businesses, but they say they still have a feeling that everything is not secure in the place, especially with the revelations about the presence of a huge terror network in the State which had even carried out two explosions in Kozhikode a year before the SM Street fire.

The case charged by the Crime Branch in the fire tragedy was as per provisions of Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code for non-deliberate homicide and under the Explosives (Prohibition) Act, which made clear that the police had no suspicions about a terror background to the incident. The finding of the Crime Branch was that the chief reason for the devastating fire was stocks of fire-crackers in prohibited amount.

The contradiction in the reports of the Central Forensic Sciences Laboratory and the State forensic laboratory had caused serious inconvenience in the process of investigation. The probe team had considered both reports while coming to a conclusion but it had not based the probe on either.

With investigations in the past one year revealing that most of the terror-cases in Kerala are inter-related and that same persons could have been behind many such incidents, even a section of the Kerala Police is advocating the need of a comprehensive probe into the fire at SM Street. A senior police official said that the Kerala Police might be able to crack the case, “but we won’t be able to check all sides of the case especially if it has connections with elements outside the State as in the other terror cases.”

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