Major fire destroys Maharashtra Government records
NDTV broke this news:
A major fire has broken out on the fourth floor of the Maharashtra Secretariat or Mantralaya building in south Mumbai where files on the Adarsh building scam were reportedly stacked.
HT added later:
Emergency teams are fighting a fire at the Mantralaya, the seat of Maharashtra’s government, in Mantralaya. TV channels showed smoke and flames blowing out of the fourth floor of the building.
The fire broke out at NCP minister Babanrao Pachpute’s office, on the fourth floor, which also houses the offices of urban development and energy.
The secretariat of Maharashtra government is located at Nariman Point in Mumbai.
The fire broke out at around 3 pm.
Sixteen fire engines have rushed to the spot.
Maharashtra chief secretary has ordered immediate evacuation of the entire building, sources said.
Pachpute said the fire has spread to the chief minister’s office on the sixth floor. There are also offices of ministers and secretaries on the same floor.
Ministers including chief minister Prithviraj Chavan are safe.
However, 20 to 25 staffers were trapped in the building. Efforts are on to rescue them.
An update from IBN Live:
State Forest Minister Patang Rao said, “I am confident that all the important files will be safe and intact.”
The eyewitnesses said that the fire broke out around 3 pm and now the area has been cordoned off.
Initial reports suggest that the fire may have been caused due to a short-circuit, for that is a common reason for a conflagration of this scale.
News reporters on the site also wondered whether it could have been set off by a cigarette that may have not been extinguished.
However given that security set up, safety precautions and fire preparedness in a building that is at the heart of government operations, reporters wondered whether conspiracy theories can be ruled out; especially, as sensitive papers in cases such as the Adarsh scam may be housed at the Mantaralaya.
The Hindu added:
Mr. Pachpute said he heard a blast soon after the blaze started. Though his staff used fire extinguishers to put out the flames, it spread rapidly.
“I ran down and pulled out my cabinet colleague Jayant Patil from his third floor cabin,” Mr. Pachpute said.
Animal Husbandry Minister Madhukar Chavan said he heard several blasts in the air-conditioners at he attempted to escape.
Mr. Pachpute said the fire brigade started its work around 3.05 p.m., nearly 20 minutes after the blaze started.
Meanwhile, the Navy has pressed into service two helicopters that hovered over the Mantralaya to rescue those who might have been stuck.
“There is nobody present on the terrace. We are using the public address system to ask those who might be trapped inside to rush to the roof-top and ropes would be dropped from the helicopters to rescue them,” a naval spokesman said.
He said frantic efforts were being made to reach those still in the building through phones.
As you can see from the photos, there is no evidence of heavy winds. The smoke rises well above the building before running into any wind.
Three bodies have been recovered during combing operations from the building. Two of them were found on the sixth floor outside the Deputy Chief Minister’s office. They have been identified as Umesh Kotekar and Mahesh Ghugale.
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan was inside the building when the fire began. He was escorted outside and from there, he supervised the rescue operations. At least twelve people were injured and moved to hospital. The Crime Branch will investigate the fire. The cause is suspected to be a short circuit, but sabotage will be investigated as well, routine for an inquiry of this kind.
HT tried to scotch rumours:
Television channels went overboard saying important files related to Adarsh had been gutted since the UDD was reduced to ashes, until CBI officials countered it.
“We had seized all documents pertaining to Adarsh from the UDD, including their hard disks when we started our investigations regarding the housing scam,” said a CBI officer.
“We have copies of all UDD’s Adarsh files,” said an official of the Adarsh inquiry commission.
Opposition BJP, meanwhile, demanded that the government should clarify and probe the fire. “The Mantralaya fire may be an accident, a conspiracy or even a terror activity. So we demand that the government should immediately constitute a committee of national and international forensic experts to find out the cause,” said Leader of Opposition and senior BJP functionary Vinod Tawde.
Ruling out sabotage, chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said, “We have a back-up of nearly 27,000 documents. But, it is too early to assess which documents have been saved and which are lost. Our main focus was to save lives.’’
India Today opines:
The incident is shameful for a number of reasons. The fourth floor of the building, where the fire started, houses the urban development department and the disaster management office, which was formed to handle disasters all over the state.
The fire started around 2:20 pm after a short circuit in one of the air conditioning units and the immediately triggered the fire alarm systems installed in the building. However, incredulous as it may sound, no one paid any attention to it!
Under normal circumstances, security staff in the Mantralaya should have stopped people from entering the building and initiated evacuation procedures, but bizarrely, work went on as usual. It was only around 2:40 pm — 20 minutes after the blaze started — that the employees realised that the fire was out of control and had begun spreading.
Making matters worse, it took the fire brigade approximately 20 minutes to arrive at the scene even though a unit is located barely half a kilometre from the building. The fire brigade then took 10 minutes to set up their ladders — apparently because of the difficulty caused by the AC’s in the building. Meanwhile, smoke started filling inside the Mantralaya, which is built like a maze, and panic set in.