Insiders claim fire at Palike office on Saturday destroyed files pertaining to wards fund scam, but civic chief denies it. Former Mayor P R Ramesh alleges foul play and lashes out at Home Minister
The recent expose of the Technical Vigilance Committee (TVCC) report by this newspaper created a major furor regarding the financial irregularities being exercised in the Malleshwaram, Gandhinagar and Rajarajeshwari Nagar constituencies of the BBMP.
R Ashok interacting with H Siddhaiah after the fire incident on
The report brought to light a scam worth Rs 3,200 crore and even as the Bangalore Metropolitan Task Force (BMTF) began preliminary investigations, a mysterious fire broke out at the palike's main office on Saturday.
The burning questions coming to the fore are why the BMTF office where the files were kept, not guarded and also with regard to a mysterious person entering the premises after working hours.
While sources allege that the fire destroyed all files pertaining to the case, BBMP is in denial, but former Mayor P R Ramesh has alleged that foul play is behind the incident and lashed out at Home Minister R Ashok.
Needle of suspicion?
It can be recalled that the former mayor had demanded re-election in 2010 blaming this very scam, which was only recently uncovered post the TVCC report.
"The BMTF comes under the purview of the Home Minister, who is also the Bangalore district-in-charge minister, and the needle of suspicion points directly towards them. A freak fire breaking out and destroying all evidence is suspicious and not a coincidence," Ramesh alleged.
The opposition leader in the BBMP has also lashed out at the ruling party, claiming that they are trying to save face through this pre-planned mishap.
"We have been demanding a probe into this huge scam for a long time. Now that these files are destroyed, this investigation will come to a halt and the palike will take another 10 years to investigate the fire accident itself," said Uday Shankar, BBMP leader of opposition.
The BBMP comes under the direct purview of Ashok and with him already facing charges in a disproportionate assets case and land denotification case, this scam, if proved would further threaten his position of power.
Reliable sources within the BBMP revealed to this reporter that an unidentified person was seen entering the palike building late on Saturday evening.
"An unidentified person walked in to the palike premises after working hours. Soon after the person left, thick smoke began emerging from the BMTF room. We are checking CCTV footage in a effort to identify the man," revealed the source.
"It is the fault of the BMTF as they did not depute a police guard that night. It is their office and they should safeguard it. I do not know about this mysterious man entering the premises but we will look at the CCTV footage," said S Harish, Deputy Mayor.
Following the fire, the BBMP commissioner was forced to react to avoid further embarrassment. While, sources within the palike confirm that all files holding data of transactions in these three constituencies since 2008 were destroyed in the fire, BBMP Commissioner H Siddhaiah denied it.
"All files which would be helpful in investigation of this scam are safe. However, I have ordered that all files and other records related to other cases be digitalized," Siddhaiah said.
With a probe into the mysterious fire already ordered, the BBMP is now solely relying on the CCTV footage from the BMTF office.
"The existing night security within the palike will be doubled and we have given the BBMP a free hand to probe the matter and have formed a 7-member committee to probe this fire mishap," said R Ashok, Home Minister, Government of Karnataka.
However, the opposition is adamant on proving the home minister's involvement in this fire. They claim that the absence of the police sentry on the third floor of the palike's main office (where the BMTF office is located) on Saturday is proof enough of Ashok's involvement.
"By the time we reached the palike, the fire had spread all over the building and we were focused on containing the fire. The local police and the BBMP will now investigate the matter," said B G Changappa, director, Karnataka State Fire and Emergency Services.
Efforts to contact Ashok for comment till the time of going to press were futile.