Video Producer: Naman Shah
Video Editor: Abhishek Sharma
Senior Editor: Somya Lakhani
"We barely have the strength to go on now," said Krishan Kant Sharma, a shopkeeper at Delhi's Chandni Chowk market, as he stared at his shop that had been tuned to ash in a massive fire on 6 January 2022 morning.
The last two years have already been tough on Sharma as lockdowns, curfews, and two waves of Covid-19 dented business. A fire now has left him, and many others like him, at the Lajpat Rai market in Chandni Chowk, devastated.
At 4.45 am on Thursday, a fire was reported in the market. The Delhi Fire Service (DFS) dispatched 13 fire tenders to douse the flames -- a job that took over four hours. Over 100 shops that sold shoes and clothes mostly were burnt to the ground.
Sharma told The Quint, "Before the first lockdown in 2020, I would make Rs 10,000 a day, and a small profit out of that. Of late, business has been low, and profit almost nil. I have employed five daily wage labourers too, who I pay Rs 500 each day. With everything burnt down, I will have to let them go. This fire is the final blow to my business."
DFS Chief Atul Garg said that no casualties were reported, and that preliminary inquiry revealed that around 80 cardboard boxes caught fire, following a short circuit.
On Thursday, the wooden structures of the stores were burnt to the ground, and all the clothes and shoes inside and outside had turned to soot. The shopkeepers rummaged through their goods but could not find anything worth keeping.
Mohammed Alam (45), a shopkeeper, who sells shoes, said that he was sleeping in his shop when the fire took place. “We woke up because of the heat, and realised there was a fire. It was spreading from one shop to the other.” He added that the shopkeepers left all their stock and fled. Alam claimed that he has suffered losses worth Rs 3.5 lakh.
Already Reeling Under Losses
Many shopkeepers told The Quint that they had already been facing losses since the first lockdown in 2020 and taken loans to sustain their businesses. Now, wonder how to repay those loans.
Mohammed Ghulam Ali, a shopkeeper who sells shoes, said, “Some of us took loans from market associations. How will we pay off our loans now? Most of us have debts of over a lakh."
Fardeen Khan, who has two shops and employs 27 people on daily wages, said that all of his stock is gone. “Leather jackets that cost Rs 1200-Rs 2000 have been burnt. We have nothing left. We cannot do anything... When my father heard about the fire, he fell sick and had to be rushed to the hospital," he said.
For Wasim (26), a labourer employed at one of the 100 shops that were gutted in the fire, it's a matter of who in his house will sleep empty-stomach. "I used to work in another market earlier but moved to this one recently to earn a better wage. We earn and spend the money daily, there is no fixed salary. I have a two-year-old daughter to feed at home. What will I do now?”