A devastating fire swept through the eight-storey Maharashtra government secretariat on Thursday, gutting four floors - including the chief minister, deputy chief minister and chief secretary's offices - and leaving at least two people dead and 14 injured.
The blaze, which started a little after 2pm from a short circuit on the fourth floor of the Nariman Point building, engulfed the fifth, sixth and seventh floor as well and could not be doused even late into the night. Around 5,000 employees and visitors, including 65 people trapped, were evacuated.
Unconfirmed reports said two visitors to deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar's office —Baramati resident Mahesh Gugale and secretariat staffer Umesh Kothekar — were found dead, apparently from suffocation. Another person was feared dead. Public relations officer Hemant Khaire, who suffered a heart attack, was critical.
Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan was not in his sixth floor office, but Pawar and several ministers were present in their offices. They escaped unhurt.
The fire reduced to ashes files in the offices of Chavan, Pawar, the chief secretary and several crucial departments. Chavan said that of the unconfirmed number of files destroyed, 2.27 lakh had already been digitised.
"We will have to examine how many files have been lost," he said, ruling out sabotage.
The tragedy crippled the state government's functioning. The secretariat might partially function on Friday, but many departments affected would be temporarily shifted out. Ministers whose offices were gutted would work from their official residences.