Public works minister Chhagan Bhujbal was in London for treatment of his shoulder when a raging fire destroyed Mantralaya’s four floors on Thursday. On his arrival the next day, he had to face flak over the alleged failure of his department in preventing the fire. The minister shot back on Saturday saying that he cannot answer all questions because he isn’t the chief minister.
PWD is being blamed for the fire because it allegedly faltered in maintaining the building
Did anyone ask me before making such allegations? I agree that my department is responsible for building maintenance, but I cannot do anything beyond it without the general administration department’s (GAD) permission. Everybody thought that the cables hanging from the ceilings carried power, but nobody cared to know that these were telephone, mobile-phone booster and CCTV cables. GAD or departments concerned did not heed to our request to have a common duct to carry such cables.
How did fire spread so quickly? Did PWD comply with recommendations of the fire safety audit made in 2008?
It was because of our efforts of clearing the lobby and exits that some 5,000 people could escape unhurt in 20 minutes. I’m told people did use fire extinguishers, but the equipment didn’t help much. The material used in renovating cabins, and massive collection of papers added to the fire. PWD is not at all responsible for this. We complied with 31 of the 32 recommendations [of the audit report]. Some crucial recommendations were to be followed by other departments as well. Do you expect the PWD to control haphazard parking on the open spaces?
But then did the PWD do anything to check such menace?
A: Yes. We took the initiative in stalling irregularities in making and renovations of offices. Many departments and ministers did things on their own, and the GAD did not check it.
Has the PWD been asking for money to upgrade Mantralaya?
We have asked for budgetary allocation umpteen times, especially after the proposal to redevelop Mantralaya in a private partnership model was scrapped. We had plans to upgrade fire safety preparedness like fire alarms, sprinklers, laying fibre optics.