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Mumbai: 2 years on, no lessons learnt at Mantralaya

A short circuit at Mantralaya yesterday brought back memories of the devastating fire on June 21, 2012, which killed 5 and gutted much of the building; luckily, there were no casualties yesterday, but the incident laid bare the state's vulnerability in dealing with such a crisis

When D K Shankaran, the then chief secretary, had asked the Public Works Department to put in order the mesh of wires hanging in the corridor of Mantralaya in 2006, little would he have known that even though lakhs of rupees would be spent, nothing would improve fire safety in the state government’s seat of power not even the devastating fire on June 21, 2012.

Major lapses in safety exposed
*
Fire alarms stayed silent
* Fire engines did not swing into action for nearly 20 minutes
* Employees had no idea where to find the electric main switches
* No activity was seen from the two fire engines stationed near the annex building, except for some firemen rushing to the first floor

Also read: Minor fire breaks out in Mantralaya; no casualties reported

For, barely two days after the second anniversary of fire, a short circuit exposed Mantralaya’s unpreparedness once again yesterday.

Also read: Two years after fire, Mantralaya finally putting damage behind

At 3.43 pm, visitors and state government employees heard something that sounded like firecrackers going off at the first-floor corridor of the Mantralaya’s annex building.

Fire engines did not get to the building for nearly 20 minutes after the short circuit occurred at 3.43 pm. Pics/Shadab Khan, Ravikiran Deshmukh
Fire engines did not get to the building for nearly 20 minutes after the short circuit occurred at 3.43 pm. Pics/Shadab Khan, Ravikiran Deshmukh

The sound came from the area opposite the chamber of Minister of State for Tribal Affairs Rajendra Gavit, adjacent to which is the section housing the social justice department.

Also read: Mantralaya fire anniversary: Elevator ride from hell for journalists

Alarms silent
Soon, smoke filled the area, leading to chaos. While the cries of people could be heard, the fire alarm system was silent. Employees, who should have been trained in fire safety drills, were scurrying to find the main switches and it took them nearly 20 minutes to turn them off.

Officials inspect the corridor adjoining the social justice department and close to the chamber of Minister of State for Tribal Affairs Rajendra Gavit, where the short circuit occurred
Officials inspect the corridor adjoining the social justice department and close to the chamber of Minister of State for Tribal Affairs Rajendra Gavit, where the short circuit occurred

No activity was seen from the two fire engines stationed near the annex building, except for some firemen rushing to the first floor. At 4.03 pm, a well-equipped fire engine reached the annex building, by which time the main switches had been turned off.

Also read: Mantralaya makeover to miss first anniversary deadline

Cops save day
It was the alertness of the policemen, deputed for the security of the premises, which saved the day, Coordinating through their walkie-talkies, they began asking visitors and employees to vacate the building and ensured that there were no casualties.

Cooperation Minister Harshvardhan Patil talks to Mantralaya employees after leaving the building
Cooperation Minister Harshvardhan Patil talks to Mantralaya employees after leaving the building

CM Prithviraj Chavan was not present in the building at the time of the fire and Industries Minister Narayan Rane, who was about to reach, was asked to refrain from entering.

Also read: Fire at Mantralaya building, no causalities reported

Cooperation Minister Harshvardhan Patil who was in his fifth-floor chamber, rushed outside and then wanted to go to the first floor to take stock of the situation but he, too, was asked to leave the premises.

Blast from the past
A fire in Mantralaya on June 21, 2012, had left five people dead and more than 20 injured, apart from causing extensive damage to the seven-storey building.

The offices of many ministers were gutted and several files were lost. Less than a year later, on March 9, 2013, another large fire had broken out on the building’s 4th floor.

Fire fighters try to bring the blaze at Mantralaya under control. Pic/Shadab Khan
Fire fighters try to bring the blaze at Mantralaya under control. Pic/Shadab Khan

Either a short circuit or the chemicals being used in the renovation and repair work were believed to have been the cause of the fire.

Panic-stricken people are seen leaving the building
Panic-stricken people are seen leaving the building. Pic/Bipin Kokate

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