Even as audits and inquiries continued in full swing on the third day after a raging fire damaged Mantralaya, State Public Works Department (PWD) said it couldn’t be put in the dock for the unfortunate incident. The fire claimed five lives and destroyed a third of the building.
“Aspersions are being cast on us, as it is assumed that the maintenance of the building is in the hands of the PWD,” State Minister for Public Works & Special Assistance Department, Chhagan Bhujbal, said. He said the electrical wiring system that ran through the seven-storey building was the responsibility of different departments and not that of the PWD alone. CCTV wires are maintained by the State Home Department, while the mobile boosters are in the charge of individual mobile operators, he said.
Refuting suggestions that PWD had not acted on the recommendations of the fire-safety audit report of 2008 conducted by the Mumbai Fire Department, Mr. Bhujbal stressed that the PWD had followed 31 of the 32 recommendations suggested in the report.
“Safety switches like circuit breakers were very much in place. Similarly, the condition that escape routes were to be kept free of blockages was thoroughly checked. If badly-parked cars were eating up space during the emergency [breakout of the fire], then is that the PWD’s responsibility?” asked Mr. Bhujbal.
The only recommendation in the report that was not implemented, according to Mr. Bhujbal, was that of the use of fire-retardant paint, the specifications of which had been sent to the Fire Department. The department hadn’t yet answered on that count at the time, he said.
Meanwhile, the task of conducting the structural audit of the building has been assigned to Raje Consultants and Shashank Mehendale & Associates, two top private structural engineering firms, and a retired PWD engineer, department sources told The Hindu.
Officials said a team of officials from the Maharashtra Housing and Development Authority (MHADA), PWD, and the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) have already surveyed the building. Cooperation is being provided to the PWD on a war-footing to clean debris from the affected floors, while the remaining files are being placed under water-proof tarpaulin sheets.
The inferno has diffused the state’s seat of power, with administrative work set to be spread at a number of places in the city. More than 50,000 sq. ft. is being made available at the G. T. Hospital and around 30, 000 sq. ft. being is being kept free in the MTNL building. While the Public Health department would function out of the Arogya Bhavan, the Planning and Finance department would operate out of the Barracks near Nariman Point.
Speaking to reporters before leaving for a survey of the charred building, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said all files belonging to the Urban Development department would be reconstructed in a month. Most of the files would be reconstructed from the State Data Server, where almost 80-90 per cent files were listed. A Special Cell will be opened in each Collector’s office to get public grievances regarding files that were pending in the Mantralaya, said sources.
However, data retrieval from the damaged machines would be a task easier said than done, something Mr. Chavan acknowledged, as most of the hard disks have been completely destroyed in the fire.
Despite the crisis, Mr. Chavan said work would start in full swing on Monday. As a symbolic gesture, the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister are expected to hold office in the first two floors of the burnt building.