Mantralaya fire: Five dead, fire extinguishers weren’t working

Mumbai:NDTV: A day after a massive fire broke out in the Mumbai Mantralaya, sources say that an audit report has found that safety norms were violated in the building. The audit report, dated 2008, shows that fire extinguishers and alarms were not working at the Mantralaya or the state Secretariat, according to sources.

The revelations come amid strong allegations that safety precautions had been ignored that led to the fire, in which five people have lost their lives. Two bodies were, in fact, discovered today in the charred remains at the Mantralaya.

The audit report, sources say, also points out that there was illegal construction inside the Secretariat, adding that no remedial action was taken despite the recommendations.

Sources have told NDTV that while the fire broke out at around 2:40 pm, water was first sprinkled only at around 3:40 pm. There were many cars parked inside the compound which were abandoned by their drivers. Towing vehicles had to be called in to get them out as they were hampering movements of the fire fighters.

The building in South Mumbai, which is the government’s headquarters, has now been declared structurally unsafe by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan after yesterday’s fire.

The last of the flames were put out early this morning by fire-fighters who worked through the night at the seven-storey building. Officials said “cooling operations” will continue for the next two days.

The massive fire began at 2.40 pm on Thursday, when 5000 people were inside. Most managed to get out. Fire-fighters helped free 65 people trapped, using cranes, ladders and ropes.

The Crime Branch of the Mumbai Police will now investigate the cause of the fire. Sources in the Crime Branch say that four teams have been formed to probe the incident. Statements of all those who were present inside the secretariat will also be recorded, sources add. Some ministers who were at work when the fire began said it took 30 minutes for the first fire engine to arrive at the site. Others allege that fire extinguishers inside government offices were not working, and that fire drills had not been conducted recently.

The chief minister has said he will meet opposition leaders who have alleged sabotage.

All ministers have been asked to cancel tours. The Chief Minister’s Office as also the Deputy Chief Minister’s will remain in the annexe building. Most administrative offices will operate from the GT Hospital where there is space of 1.25 lakh square feet.

Reacting to reports that important documents had been destroyed in the fire, Employment Guarantee Scheme Minister Nitin Raut said over three lakh files in Mantralaya have already been scanned and they are on the main server.

Documents related to the Adarsh Building Scam, which has implicated several important politicians and bureaucrats, had been handed over to the CBI months ago, the chief minister said, suggesting that the investigation into the scam would not be affected. The Adarsh building was meant to house war widows and veterans; its flats were instead assigned to families of ministers and bureaucrats. Environmental and other clearances had been ignored.

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