Earlier in the day, records were gutted in J&K Civil Secretariat fire

A major fire broke out at Zamzam Complex, housing about a dozen of the State Government offices, in Rambagh area of uptown Srinagar, on Thursday evening.

SSP Srinagar Syed Ashiq Hussain Bukhari told The Hindu that fire tenders rushed for firefighting immediately after Police and Fire Services departments learned about the day’s second major fire at Zamzam Complex at 6.30 p.m. He said that about a dozen fire tenders were trying to control the fire in the seven-storey office complex.

State non-gazetted services recruitment board and about a dozen of other key government offices operate from Zamzam Complex which functioned as Corporate Headquarters of the Jammu and Kashmir Bank for several years. The bank does not have any of its offices at Zamzam Complex as it has shifted the establishment to its own complex near the Tourist Reception Centre over a decade ago.

Zamzam is a multi-storey private property housing the State government offices. Sources said that the building could suffer extensive damage as the flames had engulfed two floors of the building completely.

Earlier on Thursday, a similar blaze destroyed a building and government records close to the main concrete block of Civil Secretariat, even as the official records of six government departments and service books of over 300 employees gutted and a two-storey building perished in the blaze.

“The two-storey wooden structure gutted completely but the fire has been brought under control. We are investigating the cause of the fire”, Senior Superintendent of Police Syed Ashiq Hussain Bukhari told The Hindu. He said that the Police were also looking into allegations that the Fire Services authorities reached “too late” though their headquarters and the State’s biggest fire control facility is at a stone’s throw from the Secretariat complex.

Slogans against Fire Services

Informed sources disclosed to The Hindu that the fire started around 9.00 a.m. but the first fire tender reached the spot at 9.30 a.m. The Fire Services authorities put over a dozen of their vehicles on the job and succeeded in controlling the blaze at 11.00 a.m. when the building had perished completely alongwith massive official records. One Insas (India Small Arms System) rifle of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) also gutted in the fire.

The two-storey building, made of wood and brick masonry, is situated on the CRPF-guarded Civil Secretariat premises but about 50 metres away from the six-storey concrete complex housing the offices of Chief Minister and all other Ministers. Chief Secretary and most of the senior bureaucrats have also their offices in the main complex.

Most of the Ministers were scheduled to attend a Fatiha ceremony at the tomb of Chief Minister’s grandmother at Hazratbal when the fire broke out minutes before the Secretariat opens as a routine at 9.30 a.m. However, hundreds of the government officials, including senior bureaucrats, were about to enter when flames engulfed the whole building.

Even as Director General of Fire and Emergency Services Ghulam Ahmad Bhat maintained that there was “no late or laxity” from his department, residents of the adjoining Suthra Shahi neighbourhood, as well as the Secretariat employees, complained that the fire tenders reached “too late” on the spot. “It took them half-an-hour to start the firefighting operation. They acted swiftly only when we raised slogans against them, fearing spreading of the flames to our houses behind”, Ghulam Rasool of Suthra Shahi asserted.

Ghulam Hassan, working in the Department of Higher Education, as well as several leaders of the Secretariat employees’ union, complained that there was “too much late and laxity” from the Fire Services authorities. “Even the fire tender that remains stationed at Secretariat permanently could have controlled the fire in the beginning. What’s the point in calling 20 fire tenders from entire city and other districts?” they questioned.

Records gutted

Special Secretary Cooperative Mohammad Akbar Ganai admitted that there was “delayed response” from the fire authorities. He said that official records and service books of over 300 officials perished in the blaze. Offices of the Director General of Accounts and Treasuries, Cooperative, Higher Education, Revenue, Vice Chairman of Gujjar and Bakerwal Advisory Board and a dispensary had been operating from the devastated building. Sources said that all four of the CRPF guardrooms in the building also perished, though the arms and ammunition, excluding a rifle, were saved.

Mr. Bhat told mediapersons that the cause of fire was being ascertained. Police officials believed short circuit could be the reason but said that sabotage could be ruled out only after an investigation. They said that Estates Department had been planning to shift the offices from the wooden building since long but the action had been delayed for unknown reasons.

Omar tweets

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who was preparing to leave for Hazratbal to offer Fatiha on the death anniversary of his grandmother, flashed on Twitter from his Gupkar Road house: “We've had a fire in the annexe of the Sectt housing the offices of technical education, higher education, forest, accounts and treasuries. The cause of the fire & the extent of the damage, particularly of records stored in these offices will take some time to assess”.