On Thursday, as the seat of the Maharashtra government, Mantralaya, fell casualty to a major fire there was an overwhelming sentiment that this was a disaster waiting to happen.
The eight-storey state secretariat building has honeycombed annexes, cubicles housing 39 departments, besides individual ministers’ offices, which have been added to and altered over the years with blatant disregard to norms.
Lack of enough space meant several files were strewn in towering heaps in the corridors, sometimes even blocking exits or entries while rats criss-crossed the complicated wiring. And cylinders in canteens on the top floor added to the potent mix.
Even casual observers would point out that this scenario was gunpowder for a fire accident.
But, its not just casual observation, the fire audit of the state secretariat in 2008 had pointed to similar lapses, noting 32 risks in Mantralaya. With nearly 2,000 staffers and additional 2,000 visitors coming into the state secretariat every day, one would think that the government would have taken this audit more seriously. But, it didn’t.
When the fire broke out at around 2:40pm on Thursday, all these elements added to transform a small fire, which could have easily been averted, into a disaster. What added to the disaster was that a fire drill had never been held. So, staffers ran down the staircases causing near stampede, officials climbed down the pipes and visitors even tried to jump from the third and fourth storeys in panic.
An officer, who made his way from the fourth floor said, “I didn’t hear any alarm going... The fire brigade started operations around 3pm. Initially, there was only one fire engine that couldn’t even reach the fourth floor.”
Praveen Singh Pardeshi, relief and rehabilitation secretary, however, said, “There were some hurdles, but these were addressed soon. We will be doing a fire audit soon.”