By Tanaya Singh:
With huge flames emerging out of the Maharashtra Secretariat building, the Mantralaya in Mumbai and a minor fire reported in the Home Ministry at Delhi, the country’s colour is definitely changing.
The commencement and duration:
At 2:40 pm on Thursday, 21st June, fire began in room 411(server room) on the fourth floor of Mantralaya building having six stories. It quickly spread to the top three floors. It is reported that fire fighters were called at 2:35pm. Though they arrived instantly, one precious hour was wasted in which the fire brigade vehicles could not reach the building because of numerous cars parked haphazardly on the way. The drivers of these had abandoned their vehicles in panic after the fire started. It was only at 3:40pm that the cars were towed away and rescue operations with 41 fire tenders could begin.
Official from the urban development department had tried to call the PWD (Public Works Department) when the fire began. However nobody received their call at that moment. When workers from PWD arrived and tried to control the situation with the help of fire fighting equipments in the building, gas in those equipments was not sufficient. Only after this it was decided to call the fire brigade.
After a continuous 12 hour effort, the fire was finally extinguished early on June 22nd. Cooling process followed for the next two days.
Three days after this incident, on Sunday June 24th, a minor fire broke out in the conference room number 102 of North Block in New Delhi. Flames were seen and seven fire rescue vehicles reached the spot at 2:27 pm. They got rid of the fire quickly by 2:50 pm.
Minor or major, flames did billow, the fire did start.
In both these cases, the cause of the fire is yet to be confirmed. The doubt that it was due to short circuit has not been affirmed by officials. The crime branch shall probe in to find the cause of Mantralaya fire and only then will it be reasserted, whether it was due to a short circuit, carelessness, or a destructive conspiracy.
The brains and the mouths:
Whenever an unnatural incident occurs at any place, all eyes get to work, to probe from all different angles. It might have been easy for chief minister Prithviraj Chavan to announce that they cannot jump to conclusions and will wait for the CBI report, however, it did not stop the million thinking minds, tweeting fingers and talking mouths. And with the contribution of each one of them, a large pool of speculations has come up to the surface.
The biggest hunch for many theories to arise came from the fact that three ministers namely Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushilkumar Shinde, and Ashok Chavan were to take a stand before the inquiry panel headed by retired Justice JA Patil with regards to the Adarsh scam. This could have been a great way to sabotage the files related to this scam and let the inquiry be delayed or maybe ended. Though, the CBI declared that it had procured all files and documents on Adarsh from the Urban development department at the start of the investigation. Even with this statement, rumours could not be curbed. This is because of huge amount of papers lost, many of which could have been related to many other scams. Who would deny, it has been a country of scams lately after all.
Another reason pointing out that this might be a planned cabal came from the story that the CM had rejected a development plan for the building, hence the fire, to leave no option other that reconstruction. Yet another statement took the needle of the blaming compass straight to the Maharashtra chief minister. This was when Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, said: “The CM’s committee room and cabinet hall were completely destroyed in the fire but there was absolutely no damage to Chavan’s personal chamber. It is surprising.”
Hearsays are many. Some say it was to make the scammers invincible, for some it was a way to hamper important yet awkward RTI queries, for some it was war of the mighty heads (read politicians) and for the finders of the easy escape, it was a short circuit.
Five people lost their life in the Mantralaya fire, while 16 suffered from suffocation and various injuries. The injured have been admitted to various hospitals, and Mr. Prithviraj Chavan gave a visit to the families of two deceased in the fire. There were 2500 staff members inside the building when the fire broke out with around 2000 visitors. About 65 people were trapped in the upper floors.
The Delhi fire did not face any life loss and was controlled before the unasked could happen.
A third of the Mantralaya building is ruined. The offices completely burnt include Chief Minister’s office, Deputy Chief Minister’s office, offices of the cabinet ministers of tribal welfare, environment, animal husbandry and fisheries, excise and non-conventional energy departments, offices of ministers of state for housing PWD, culture, higher and technical education, animal husbandry and fisheries, environment, GAD and Chief Secretary’s office. There were walls made up of plywood in many chambers thus leading to the easy spread of flames. Now the officials have no idea about around 4.82 crore pages of data. 2000 computers were ruined in the fire. Reports say than an urn having Pandit Nehru’s ashes which is lost.
No major data loss occurred in the North Block fire.
Presently many senior officials have begun work from home or from the Maharashtra Legislature Secretariat, Vidhan Bhavan, which is very close to the Mantralaya. Only one conference room is affected in the North Block fire, and it can be dealt with.
Seven members of the PWD department were responsible for saving the national flag from burns while the VIP’s were being escorted to safety. They were honoured in the BJP office. This gave a glimpse of bravery in the black smoke of doubts, losses and fear.
According to a RTI activist, with a little sense of urgency in the government’s part, the entire incident could have been avoided. In the fire safety audit issued in 2008, 32 hazards were mentioned. This included use of cylinders for cooking on certain floors, some electrical defects, scrap stored on all floors and problems with vehicle parking among others. One fire brigade warning in 2008 and another in 2010 was also ignored by the state government. So much for playing safe!
Why were these warnings ignored? Why the fire equipment was never tested or a fire drill carried out as safety measures? Why was such an old building standing without any fire escapes and direction to exit instead of humongous amount of wood used for decorative purposes? Why were VIPs given special safety treatment and escorted out of the building while ignoring the visitors and leaving them to their own fate till the brigade arrived? Why were the eight crore pages of data not digitized in a timely manner when the digitisation began in 2010? Why? Why? Why the fire brigade wasn’t informed the next second when a spark was first seen?
This might go on a different page, but with kids dying in bore wells, and government buildings being ignited and charred, this ‘developing’ country surely needs to develop its equipments. Have more questions burning your heads, keep adding on.
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