The historic Secretariat complex here, termed the nerve centre of the State’s administrative machinery, could well be a tinderbox waiting to go up in flames on the lines of Mantralaya, the Maharashtra Secretariat building, if its vulnerability to a fire is considered.
The 140-plus-year-old complex, parts of which are declared heritage monuments, does not comply with all the fire safety measures prescribed under the National Building Code of India. A few fire extinguishers and other basic precautionary measures, according to a senior Fire and Rescue Department official, are all that are available and these, he says, would be of hardly any use in case of a major accident. This is despite the department, after conducting studies, having sent repeated recommendations to the Government, including to install hydrant systems and to set up a water tank on the premises to battle a possible fire accident. However, though the Public Works department is believed to have even prepared an estimate to spruce up the building with adequate fire safety measures, little has been done in that regard.
What accentuates the situation is the architecture of the building, which has a major part of its structure made of wood, including the umpteen staircases, and the fact that most of the narrow corridors are carpeted with coir mats, all which could take a minor spark much beyond control. Adding to the danger is the fact that the congested building has about 5,000 staff and several hundreds of other visitors through the day. The available fire escapes are inadequate and the possibility of a stampede cannot be ruled out, the official cautions.
“The Secretariat annexe and the new Assembly building all were constructed with compliance to the fire safety regulations stipulated by the National Building Code, since those are necessary to get further technical permissions including No Objection certificates from authorities including the Corporation. However, the old building of the Secretariat, constructed in the 19 century, does not adhere to any of these regulations and it is long since necessary amendments or additions were put in place. It is quite a risky situation,” another official points out.
The building, for which the foundation stone was laid in 1895 by the then King of Travancore, Ayilyam Tirunal Rama Varma, was completed in 1869, with the design and construction monitored by Barton, the then chief engineer of Travancore.