Mumbaikars were jolted out of their minds when they heard of and saw live, a building on fire. This was not an ordinary building; this was ‘Mantralaya’ the secretariat of the Maharashtra government, the locus of power, the seat of the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister. Though scores of fire fighting vehicles were pressed into action immediately and nearly 4000 people, including the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister, were rescued unscathed, there were three casualties while many others were hurt. In the fire not just a building was gutted, but also the credibility of the Maharashtra government as the state authorities are still groping in the dark as to what caused the fire. The public too is askance because as early as 2008, the Mumbai city corporation had expressed serious doubts regarding the fire safety of the building. Why then did the state government not pay any heed to the warning?
When the fire broke out the warning system failed to sound the alarms. All the anti-fire mechanisms that the building was equipped with proved ineffective and useless. All offices of the building are provided with small fire hydrants for the maintenance of which lakhs have been spent on contracts, but they failed when the need arose.Later, answering a
question, Praveen Pardesi, the head of disaster management, said that the whole incident would be looked into: a routine answer epitomising usual government callousness.
The biggest cause of anxiety was the apprehension that the fire may have been a deliberate attempt to destroy files related to Adarsh Housing Society Scam. These fears were heightened because Adarsh Housing Society Scam files have gone missing in the past too. But the CBI put paid to such rumours saying that all the files are safe. Though fears have been allayed, the people are well within their brief to ask questions regarding malafide motives behind the fire given the charges of corruption that are surfacing one after the other against ministers and leaders related to the ruling coalition.
The Chief Minister has assured that the working of the government will not be affected as nearly two and a half lakh files have already been scanned. But what about the other files? Do they mean nothing? Did they contain nothing significant and were of no use to the governance of the state?
The Opposition is gunning for the government saying that there are chances that the fire might not have been accidental. The leader of Opposition, Eknath Khadse, said that the precise causes of fire should be ascertained as soon as possible and, if necessary, foreign experts too should be consulted.
Apart from the Adarsh files, there is strong apprehension that other minor offences that had just started to see the light of day must have been gutted. This is the belief behind a lot of speculation doing the rounds in Mumbai.
Recently, in April 2012, Shiv Sena MLA Neelam Gorhe raised a question in the Assembly regarding the fire safety measures installed in ‘Mantralaya’ and Assembly building but to no avail. All this fell on the government’s deaf ears.
In its review of the building, the fire department had made 32 recommendations. The department had raised serious objections to the recurrent renovations of the chambers and offices of the ministers and officers but it continued nevertheless. Reservations were also registered against piling files and cupboards against doors but again no one paid heed. Fourteen shortcomings were pointed out in the electricity wiring of the building. The building has a plethora of unsanctioned canteens which house a number of gas cylinders which heighten the risk of a fire breakout.
The very structure from where the entire state is run was subjected to utter neglect and dereliction. The government which is the upholder of law and order,itself made a travesty of rules, bypassed them and today the brunt of its callousness has fallen on its own head.