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'Mantralaya' toll mounts to 5, police launch probe

Mumbai, Jun 22: Investigators were probing whether there was a sabotage angle behind the devastating fire at the Maharashtra secretariat as two more bodies were recovered today raising the toll to five. (Mantralaya on Fire)The

India TV News Desk [ Updated: June 22, 2012 20:16 IST ]
mantralaya toll mounts to 5 police launch probe
mantralaya toll mounts to 5 police launch probe

Mumbai, Jun 22: Investigators were probing whether there was a sabotage angle behind the devastating fire at the Maharashtra secretariat as two more bodies were recovered today raising the toll to five. (Mantralaya on Fire)

The bodies were recovered from the sixth floor of the seven-storey building after the blaze that raged on through the night was doused early this morning, more than 12 hours since it was first noticed.

The fire left behind a trail of destroyed files, damaged computers, charred furniture, blackened walls and broken glass panes.

Four teams have been constituted under Deputy Police Commissioner Ambadas Pote to probe the cause of the incident including sabotage.

Questions of a conspiracy have been raised since the offices housing the urban development department, in the eye of a controversy over Adarsh scam, were gutted.

Seeking to allay apprehensions, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said vital documents related to the scam were with CBI and the Judicial Commission constituted by the government. 

“We have photocopies with us. Hence, the speculation that Adarsh probe will be hampered due to the fire is ruled out,” Chavan, who holds the urban development portfolio, told reporters.

He said, “Hard disks of damaged computers will be retrieved, for which assistance of NASCOM and IT experts, including foreign agencies, will be taken.”

The Chief Minister said 2.25 lakh files in ‘Mantralaya' had been digitised and 3.18 crore papers scanned prior to the incident and were thus safe.

Chavan chaired a special meeting of his cabinet at ‘Vidhan Bhavan' where he reviewed the situation in the aftermath of the disaster as the Crime Branch, which is usually entrusted with the task of probing underworld-related crimes, registered a case and formally launched a probe. 

Entry to ‘Mantralaya' was prohibited today, he said, said, adding people will be allowed in only after a structural audit had been completed.

“Four teams consisting of about 40 police personnel, including an Assistant Police Commissioner and senior inspectors, will carry out the entire probe under the guidance of the DCP Pote (Crime Branch) to uncover if the fire was accidental or a sabotage,” a senior police officer said. 

Statements of 15 persons have been recorded so far.  Forensic teams also inspected the building and investigators are trying to get footage from CCTV cameras installed there. Sources said CCTV cameras on fifth and sixth floors were badly damaged.

“There was so much heat on the fourth floor that it felt as if one had switched on a huge electric heater,” an official who was among those who inspected the floors, said.  We suspect that the slab has suffered structural damage due to heat, he said.

In the morning, Chief Secretary Jayant Kumar Banthia sent a team of PWD structural engineers to inspect the damage in the aftermath of the blaze.

NCP chief and union minister Sharad Pawar, who had a meeting with Chavan, said the building should be reconstructed by the government but not through the build-operate-transfer (BOT) route.

BOT is a type of arrangement under which the private sector builds an infrastructure project, operates it and eventually transfers ownership to the government. 

Meanwhile, BJP president Nitin Gadkari has demanded a probe by a sitting or retired judge of the Supreme Court into the incident, saying credibility of the state government was at stake as there were reports that important files pertaining to various scandals might have been destroyed. 

“It would be appropriate for the Prithviraj Chavan government to constitute a probe panel under the chairmanship of a sitting or a retired judge of the Supreme Court to dispel the mystery of the fire,” he said in Nagpur. 

Pawar deprecated attempts to politicise the issue, saying, “it is a grave calamity, which needs to be overcome unitedly”.

Pawar, a former state Chief Minister, said Chavan and his cabinet colleagues were handling the situation well. 

The Union Minister said he had asked the Chief Minister to see to it that offices of various departments located in the Mantralaya were shifted elsewhere within 48 hours “so that a reassuring message goes out to the people that the government is functional”.

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