The Maharashtra government did not implement recommendations made after a detailed fire audit it conducted four years ago, besides an expert study meant to overhaul the entire fire detection system in Mantralaya, inquiries with the general administration department and public works department revealed on Friday.
Besides, neither the general administration department nor the public works department is sure whether the seven-storey building spread over 700,000 sq ft has been insured.
Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said fire safety norms might have been flouted at the Mantralaya, adding the government would look into the matter. He promised steps to recover data from computer hard disks damaged in yesterday’s fire that gutted the fourth, fifth and sixth floors. “We will seek help from Nasscom, the cyber cell and even foreign experts,” he informed.
Chavan said the administration would now go for a structural safety audit. Mantralaya will be out of bounds till the task is over, he added.
A senior official who was part of both the 2008 tasks said yesterday’s blaze in the state secretariat could have been less disastrous had there been a proper fire detection system and sprinklers across the building. “The hose water used in the operation lacked force, making it difficult for the officials to fight the fire,” he told Business Standard on condition of anonymity.
A fire audit report in 2008, the official said, has been gathering dust, as the state government “never took it seriously”. It had suggested an overhaul project costing an estimated Rs 1 crore, he added.
Further, a special study was carried out with the help of architect Hafeez Contractor during October 1998 and March 1999 for reorganisation of the sitting arrangement in Mantralaya. “Basically, the study aimed at securing the building from a fire hazard,” he said. “It envisaged redesign of the entire Mantralaya precinct, including the adjoining garden. The aim was to provide space form movement and parking vehicles, besides access to fire-fighting personnel. The entire project cost was estimated at Rs 100 crore.”
The last 12 years saw Rs 112 crore being spent on remaking the chambers of ministers and officials in the Mantralaya, he added.
Yesterday’s fire, the official said, was brought under control around 10 pm.
“Even so, wind from the (nearby) Arabian Sea can reignite the fire any time. The inferno had raised the temperature on the fourth, fifth and sixth floors of Mantralaya to 600-700 degree Celsius,” he added. “Cooling operations are under way.”
Toll rises to five
Two more bodies were today recovered from the fire-ravaged Mantralaya, taking the toll to five even as the Mumbai Police registered a case of accidental death in the wake of the tragedy.
The blaze that broke out yesterday was doused early today, but a cooling operation would continue for the next two days, according to fire brigade officer S V Joshi.
It was from the building’s sixth floor that fire personnel recovered two bodies while combing it today. Three bodies arrived at the J J Hospital yesterday, dean T P Lahane informed.
A special meeting of the Maharashtra Cabinet today decided to relocate various offices. There would be no change in the schedule of the monsoon session of the state legislature; it would start on July 9.
All files pertaining to the Adarsh scam have been handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation, according to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. “So, there is no question of the fire affecting the probe,” he told reporters after the Cabinet meeting. About 2,27,000 files have been scanned, he added.