Short circuit likely to have caused blaze; second such incident in 5 months

The Government Printing Press, established in 1888 on Mint Street, was completely damaged in Friday’s fire though there were no casualties.

The building was categorised as a Grade I heritage building by the Justice E. Padmanabhan Committee that was constituted by the Madras High Court to identify heritage buildings in the city. Tons of paper, mostly government documents worth several lakhs, and printing machines were also destroyed in the fire that broke out around 2.10 a.m.  

Staff members, who were on night duty, saw smoke coming from the printing section and alerted senior officials. They in turn informed the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services (TNFRS) and the police around 2.25 a.m. Fire engines were immediately pressed into service.

In a few hours, the roof and a few pillars of the heritage building caved in. The police suspect that an electrical short circuit might have caused the fire. “As there was a huge quantity of paper, the fire spread quickly in the building. Since it was unfit to use anymore, we demolished the dilapidated structure that was left standing,” said a PWD official.

The State Tamil development and information minister, K.T. Rajendra Balaji, who visited the press on Friday, said alternative arrangements will be made.

Friday’s fire was the second such incident on the campus. About five months ago, the store house, which is adjacent to the printing building, was destroyed. Around one hundred tons of paper, mostly government documents, worth Rs. 15 lakhs was destroyed.

The building was spread over 40,000 sq. ft each, on the ground and first floors. It is only one of ten buildings on the campus, but it is the most important, officials said, because all the printing and binding is done here. Around 1,600 people work every day on the campus. The printing section is also known as ‘budget’ section since budget documents, including copies of the Chief Minister’s and Governor’s speeches, are printed.

In 2008, the Press was declared a heritage building under Grade I category by the Justice E. Padmanabhan Committee in its report to the Madras High Court. The category includes buildings that are of historic importance and characterised by their architectural style and design.

“It is unfortunate that the building, the first mint built by the British in Madras Presidency, has been pulled down. Efforts must have been put into restoring it,” said K. Kalpana, a conservation architect.

Following the destruction of Kalas Mahal in a fire last year, the State government passed the Heritage Act to prevent such incidents and take care of historic structures. However, a Heritage Commission as envisaged by the Act has not yet been constituted.

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