Fire at GST Bhavan damages documents; inquiry ordered

Monday inferno: Firefighters try to douse the fire that broke out on the ninth floor of GST Bhavan in Mazgaon on Monday.

Monday inferno: Firefighters try to douse the fire that broke out on the ninth floor of GST Bhavan in Mazgaon on Monday.  

No casualty reported; structural audit of govt.-owned building to be carried out

Several important documents, including those belonging to audit section of the Department of Goods and Services Tax and files related to the appellate authority — which handles disputes on recovery and payments — were damaged in a fire at GST Bhavan in Mazgaon on Monday. Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar has ordered an inquiry into the incident. No casualty was reported.

The fire broke out on the ninth floor of GST Bhavan at Maharana Pratap Chowk around 12.35 p.m. The blaze was declared level 4 (major) by 1.14 p.m. and 16 fire engines, two turntable ladders, and nine jumbo tankers were deployed. Fire brigade officials said the flames spread to the eighth and part of the 10th floor. The fire was brought under control by 3.30 p.m., but its cause is yet to be ascertained.

Renovation work was being carried out in the government-owned building. Most employees used the staircase to run out to safety. “People on the ninth floor were evacuated by firefighters and PWD officials. The staircase was clear and therefore, people on the upper floors could climb down as the electricity was cut off,” Satish Shinde, a peon at GST Bhavan, said.

Chief Fire Officer Prabhat Rahangdale said the fire flared up because of papers, wooden furniture, and construction materials lying on upper floors. “As soon as the fire broke out, the in-house firemen started evacuating people. By the time, the fire engines had reached the spot, and all the people were evacuated. There was no report of anyone trapped. Around 120 firemen were deployed and no injuries or casualties were reported,” Mr. Rahangdale said.

The building’s firefighting system was not fully functional but the fire hydrants were in working condition. The hydrants and the underground water tank were also used in dousing the fire, Mr. Rahangdale said, adding a structural audit would be done in the building.

Officials said the ninth floor had the office of the additional commissioner of GST but it was in the process of being shifted to the seventh floor.

Meanwhile, Mr. Pawar, who was at YB Chavan Centre at the time, rushed to the spot. He told media persons that after the fire in Mantralaya, instructions were issued (related to fire safety). “Even then, this happened. Some say a short circuit in an air-conditioner led to the blaze. The road was shut for traffic to allow the fire engines to reach on time. We will have to conduct an inquiry into the cause and to find out which papers were burnt.”

Mr. Pawar also said that around 3,500 people work there, and first thing he asked was if anyone was missing but there were none. “The wood and papers lying there led to the fire flaring up. I have been told nothing very important was there on the ninth floor.”

When asked if a fire audit would be carried out, he replied in the affirmative. Soon after, the government ordered a probe.

Officials said the fire had resulted in the loss of important documents. While these documents would be recreated since they have been digitised to be safely restored on an external server, the procedures in some disputed matters where the ruling is pending could be delayed. The government response to the audit points raised by external agencies would also be delayed. The State is however not expecting any impact of the fire damage on the coming budget.

“We will probe what led to the fire but at the same time check if permissions for renovations were in place or not. A report on the loss of the documentation will be arrived in the next 48 hours,” additional chief secretary (finance), Manoj Sunik, told The Hindu.

Police inspector Pradeep More said, “The cooling work was being carried out till late in the evening. No evidence of sabotage has been found till now as earlier a fire had broken out on the sixth floor of the same building. We will look into the losses suffered by the department and further investigations will be carried out later.”

The national flag saviour

Amid the chaos and evacuation, Kunal Jadhav, a peon at GST Bhavan, ran to the terrace to pull down the Tricolor, to prevent it from burning.

“I was clearing the parking area as the fire vehicles, which were on their way, would need space. After someone mentioned about it, I saw that the wind was forcing the flames to blow towards the flag. I thought that it was my duty to prevent any damage to the national flag and therefore I climbed onto the terrace from a different side and pulled it down,” Mr. Jadhav said.

(With inputs from Sharad Vyas)

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 7:06:35 PM |

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