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State headquarters, or scrapyard?

The soot-stained, blackened Mantralaya opened its doors to its babus again yesterday, with work being resumed on those floors that have been spared by the fire.


Wasteland: Five days after the fire at Mantralaya, remains of the gutted furniture are thrown in the central yard of the state building

But in place of the din and bustle that usually rises from the building, a pall of gloom hung over it — one only heard whispered conversations rise from corners.

Adding to the sense of squalour and despair was the pitiful view of the central yard, which has been reduced to a wasteland — a scrap yard of sorts, with remains of gutted furniture being further disintegrated before being loaded onto trucks.

Around 10.30 am, CM Prithviraj Chavan and Deputy CM Ajit Pawar addressed Mantralaya employees, asking them to remember and mourn the loss of the five victims who died in the blaze.

A meeting followed among members of the Democratic Front cabinet — here too, no one seemed to muster up the spirit to engage in the usual spirited debates. Aggressive voices had been muted by shock — the focus was more on the catastrophic events, and possible plans for the future.

Later, ministers whose chambers were intact ventured inside them, and sat with their subordinates. The building was closed to visitors yesterday. Ministers who had lost their offices to the blaze were seen heading towards chambers in Vidhan Bhavan.

Home Minister R R Patil’s office offered a picture of unnerving contrast to its past appearance — the usually bustling chamber wore a deserted look, occupied by only a few of the staffers.

Ministers of State Sachin Ahir and Fauzia Khan visited their gutted chambers, and were met with a depressing site — charred remains of computers and furniture. Both ministers admitted to having lost files, expressing shock and dismay at the scale of damage caused by the fire.

Jaidutta Kshirsagar, minister in charge of MSRDC left soon, saying he was feeling restless. “It is not the same atmosphere,” he was heard murmuring.

The doors were flung wide open, as the air conditioning system had been switched off for inspection. Computers too were inaccessible — staffers were left with no option but to engage in gloomy conversations about the incident, and share their stories of escape.

According to sources, most ministers questioned the disaster management plan, wondering why it took 12 hours to douse the fire, and why the fire extinguishers fixed on the fourth floor did not work in a crisis. What is the purpose of a disaster management plan if it doesn’t function, a minister is believed to have asked in one of the meetings.

Questions were also raised over the lack of preparedness shown by the BMC fire department. A snorkel lift, after rescuing 35 people, went kaput, and was out of action for over an hour — this incident too was discussed.

Meanwhile, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar is said to have called Bhujbal from Malaysia to discuss when usual work could be resumed at Mantralaya.

In numbers
>> As many as 110 trucks of scrap and burnt articles left Mantralaya
>> 90 per cent of the space gutted in fire was cleaned by last evening
>> Four chief engineers, 8 superintending engineers, 10 executive engineers, 40 deputy engineers and 125 junior engineers and around one thousand workers were engaged in the job.  

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