Could the fire that travelled through dangling electric wires, inflammable paper files and wooden partitions, gutting three floors and killing five people, have been averted?
Two reports and over 50 recommendations were given to make the Mantralaya building fire-safe. It has been 14 years since the government got the first study conducted by renowned architect Hafeez Contractor to reorganise the interiors from the safety angle, but nothing was implemented.
In 2009, a committee under the chairmanship of NV Merani came out with another set of guidelines to be followed by all public buildings in Mumbai, including Mantralaya, for fire-safety, but few of these seem to have been followed either.
Merani, with a panel of experts including police and government officials, conducted a general study of all public buildings in Mumbai in 2009, which were then guidelines to be followed for fire safety and evacuation. “The report was accepted by the government and they agreed to follow it. It was an exhaustive report. If followed, it could have helped in reducing the intensity of the fire,” Merani said while talking to Hindustan Times.
The report talked of a separate fire station for important buildings like Mantralaya, so that there is a dedicated force available on a hotline for them. It also recommended keeping open spaces free of parking. In the Mantralaya fire, the inability of reaching the fire brigade in time and vacating the parking space for the fire engine to get in proved to be two major hurdles.
Contractor's proposal had pointed out the building’s corridors were full of inflammable material and there were no fire stairways. So, he recommended the reorganisation of files, putting them in special compartments and storerooms, clearing the corridors and creating more space, creating basements for parking, and even shifting departments that would make movement easy.
Public works minister Chhagan Bhujbal on Saturday told HT that 31 of the 32 recommendations made in the fire-safety audit report had been complied with. He blamed the general administration department for allowing irregular constructions and renovation of ministerial cabins and other offices.