One hundred tons of govt. papers kept in storehouse destroyed

One hundred tons of paper, including government documents worth around Rs. 15 lakhs, were destroyed in a major fire that broke out at the storehouse of the British-era Government Central Press on Mint Street in Seven Wells in north Chennai on Wednesday.

The police suspect an electrical short circuit might have caused the fire.

The storehouse, which was gutted in the fire, is one of the ten buildings on the premises of the Government Central Press. Covering around 4,000 sq. ft., the storehouse adjoins the ‘budget’ section, where budget documents, including copies of the Chief Minister’s and Governor’s speeches, are printed.

All used and unused government documents and waste papers were kept in the storehouse.

Around 10.10 a.m. on Wednesday, staff members in the budget section saw smoke coming from the storehouse and alerted senior officials. Initially, security officials at the press tried to put out the fire with extinguishers. They were later assisted by the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services (TNFRS) and the police.

Fire fighters with tenders from New Washermenpet, Esplanade, Vepery, Royapuram, Tondiarpet and six water tankers from Chennai Metrowater were pressed into service. A 25-member team of firemen took more than five hours to put out the fire.

The firemen had to rope in the services of PWD staff to remove piles of papers from the storehouse, using JCPs, before dousing the fire.

“As there was a vast quantity of paper, the fire spread quickly in the storehouse and due to the heat, the dilapidated building caved in. However, we contained the fire,” said Chennai district fire officer, Meenakshi Vijayakumar.

Police and fire officers blamed the authorities at the press for poor fire safety measures at the 200-year-old structure where around 1,600 staff members work every day.

T. Abraham, director of the press, pointed out that most of the buildings were old. “Of the ten buildings, only three are fit to use. All the electrical fittings and lines are old,” he said.

In 2006, the Old Mint Press, as it was called earlier, was declared a heritage building by the Justice E. Padmanabhan committee in its report to the Madras High Court.

“Historically, the structure is important because this was the first mint built by the British in the Madras Presidency. So, it is necessary to conserve this heritage building,” said K. Kalpana, a conservation architect.

Originally, the press was constructed in 1807 for minting coins and for the production of gun powder by the East India Company and later by British India. After independence, it was converted into the Central printing press of the government of Tamil Nadu.

Now, the press caters to all State government departments. It produces their notifications, including committee reports, government orders, budgetary notes and announcements, and election forms.

The press has branches at Madras High court, the Madurai bench of the High Court, Trichy, Salem, Pudhukottai and Vridhachalam.

The press also prints question papers and answer sheets for the classes X and XII examinations as well as for competitive examinations conducted by the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission. Every year, on an average, around 7,000 tons of papers are printed at the press.

The papers destroyed on Wednesday had been accumulating in the storehouse since March, after last year’s papers were auctioned. Every year, the press auctions around 350 tons of waste paper and other used documents. Extra waste paper and documents, stored in a room adjacent to the storehouse, were undamaged in the fire.

To prevent such incidents in the future, a police team led by the joint commissioner of police (North), Sridhar, briefed security personnel of the press.

The State tamil development and information minister, K.T. Rajendra Balaji, who visited the press on Wednesday, said, steps had been initiated to built a new 4000-sq. ft. storehouse at the cost of Rs. 60 lakhs.

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