A day after a major fire broke out in the accounts branch of the administrative block of the Panjab University in the wee hours of Sunday, the campus is rife with conspiracy theories claiming sabotage.
A fact that does lend some prima facie credence to such talk is that the branch had only been renovated in 2014-end. Also, record of payments made by executive engineer for the past 16 years has also been gutted.
An inquiry committee looking into irregularities in quality of works executed had called for the record, but the process was stalled on some pretext or the other.
Panjab University, on its part, has informed the Chandigarh Police and added that short-circuit could be the reason. The varsity is yet to form its inquiry committee to look into the fire incident.
Police, however, have been investigating the incident with experts from the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) scanning the building and parts of the campus for clues. The CCTV footage of the night is also in their possession.
Initial reactions of the people backing the ‘deliberate fire’ theory was that record pertaining to ₹2 crore pension scam that had rattled the university were the target.
The record — under audit scrutiny — however, has been found to be safe.
PUTA calls for external inquiry
Meanwhile, Panjab University Teachers Association (PUTA) held a meeting on Monday and passed a resolution calling for constituting a high-level external expert committee to probe the incident of fire in a time-bound manner. Prof Akshaya Kumar, who was present in PUTA meeting, said, “The fire incident was unfortunate. Due to financial crisis which we are going through an inquiry by external committee is required to give a befitting answer to all the misgivings about our financial system.”
“An inquiry will settle the apprehensions,” said prof Promila Pathak, president, PUTA.
On the other hand, PU Campus Students’ Council Nishant Kaushal said, “It is a big loss of data. It will waste time of students as grants for projects would be delayed. To settle suspicions, we want an inquiry.”
Wiring done two years ago
“The wiring was done just two-and-half-year ago. It is unlikely that short circuit could have led to fire. But true facts could come when result of inquiry would come out,” said executive engineer, PU, RK Rai.
Building is safe, claim PU officials
“There is no major damage to the administrative building, the portion of which was affected by fire on May 14.
However, the strengthening of building shall be undertaken soon because of cracks as advised by technical adviser, PU.
It is also informed that the fire safety equipment and fire alarm systems are in working condition and were installed after getting clearance from the fire officer,” a Panjab University press statement said.
Work to continue at Aruna Ranjit Chandra Hall
The sections of administrative block are likely to be shifted to Aruna Ranjit Chandra Hall and other places for time being.
“A further committee will be formed of civil engineers for further safety of structure for a NOC,” said director public relations (DPR), PU, Renuka Salwan.
Non-teaching employees not allowed to work
Meanwhile, even on Monday, the building reeked of smoke. Non-teaching employees were not allowed to work today. Registrar, PU, Col GS Chadha (retd) himself addressed them and told them they would be called when required. Only the examination branch functioned on Monday.
Record of payments made by office of executive engineer gutted
An inquiry is on at PU on payments made by the executive engineer office for the last 16 years as issues cropped relating to the quality of work.
The committee had called for the record, but it was not provided to them. This record is now gutted.
Reaction on campus
Documents on the Rs 2-cr pension scam could be target of fire. Even as it later emerged that the documents relating to Rs 2 crore pension scam were safe, most backers of the deliberate theory claimed that were the target. Previously, a central processing unit that had details of the case has been stolen.
No one knows what happened
to 36 previous notices issued to PU. The fire department of the MC issued 36 notices to PU over the past 5-odd years for not complying with safety norms.
600 notices in five years, only 4 sealed
Over the past five years, more than 600 notices on fire safety norms have been issued to eateries, coaching institutes including Panjab University and Punjab Engineering College (PEC) etc. However, only four buildings have been sealed. Under the law, the MC is to seal the building after three notices.