MP: Thousands of COVID-19 Files, Service Books Gutted in Satpura Bhawan Fire, Cong Smells a Rat
Bhopal: Almost 200 meters away from the fire station headquarters and 500 meters from the police fire station in Madhya Pradesh’s capital city, three floors of the six-storey Satpura Bhawan -- a critical government building that is 100 meters away from the Chief Minister's office -- caught on fire on Monday.
The fire allegedly flared up with a short-circuit around 3 p.m on the third floor of the building and turned into a blaze within an hour owing to poor coordination between the officials concerned.
After 16 hours, the marathon fire died down, gutting thousands of files of the health department, complaint branch of the Lokayukta, Vidhan Sabha, medical records branch and investment policy office located on the fifth floor. On the sixth floor, the service books of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers, state administrative service and others turned into ashes.
"Prima facie investigation reveals that a short circuit in an air-conditioner triggered the fire that raged to other floors due to the wind. No casualties have been reported, but important files have turned into ashes," Bhopal Police Commissioner Harinarayanchari Mishra told reporters on Tuesday.
The government took help from the Airport Authority of India, Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited and Army to douse the flames. When water cannons failed to douse the flames, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan dialled the Defence Minister, Air Force, Home Minister and Prime Minister to aid the operation.
Meanwhile, the state administration has constituted a committee of senior bureaucrats to investigate the cause of the incident. According to the CMO, the panel will consist of the Additional Chief Secretary (Home), Principal Secretary (Urban Administration), Principal Secretary (PWD), and Additional Director General (Fire).
CM Chouhan has asked the team to submit the report within three working days after the review meeting.
This is the third time in over a decade that a fire has broken out in Satpura Bhawan. Coincidentally, the blaze started on the third floor of the government building, as did the fires in 2012 and 2018, just before the Assembly elections.
Speaking with NewsClick, Ramesh Neel, Bhopal Municipal Corporation's Fire Officer, said they received the call at 4.29 p.m that an air-conditioner on the third floor had caught fire. Two fire tenders were sent on the spot within 15-20 minutes to douse the flames. "When we arrived, the fire was already flaring up. Despite the delay, we almost doused the blaze when a blast in an AC or cylinder on the third floor of the building and a strong wind flared up the fire," Neel said.
According to sources, the fire office was alerted almost an hour late after the fire engulfed the newly renovated wooden offices. The firefighters were also struggling for water as all the water tankers of the Municipal Corporation were sent to a Vishnu Puran Katha Vachan, organised by a sitting minister, Vishwas Sarang.
The officials claimed that the building's fourth, fifth and sixth floors were under renovation with an expense of Rs 11 crore.
"All the files, service books of health department officials and files related to COVID-19 were gutted," said an officer of the health department. "We have no option but to try to retrieve the documents and data, but it's almost impossible to retrieve ever burnt documents," the official told reporters.
Politics Over Fire
The Satpura Bhawan fire occurred an hour after Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi's barb on the ruling government over corruption in her maiden poll speech in Jabalpur. The Congress has, therefore, alleged foul play.
The fire has ignited a political war in the poll-bound state as Congress has alleged that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government was trying to burn “corruption” related files.
In a scathing attack on the government, former Chief Minister Kamal Nath demanded an investigation by an ‘independent agency’ alleging corruption.
In a video statement released on Twitter, Nath said, “The question is, whether this fire started on its own or was the building set on fire? They claim that 12,000 files have been burnt. No one knows how many thousands of files have been burnt. What is the goal and aim of this fire? This is a matter of corruption, and there should be a probe by an independent agency.”
The former CM also accused the BJP government of “never being prepared for any emergency”. “The only preparation they know is on how to make money,” he said.
A delegation of Congress leaders, headed by the leader of the opposition Govind Singh, who was trying to inspect the building, was apprehended by the police. Only Singh could go inside in the scuffle that followed, but not beyond a point. In reaction, Congress MLAs sat on a protest outside the building, alleging mishandling by the police.
Speaking to reporters, Singh alleged, “In the fear of getting exposed, all the files were intentionally burnt. After Vyapam, the nursing college scam is being investigated by CBI on Supreme Court’s directions. There is a Rs 3,000 crore corruption in ST students’ scholarships and hostels, which was buried in these files."
The Congress leader claimed, "In a democratic setup, the LoP has the power of inspection, but I was mishandled. Why? This suggests they want to burn files that survived the fire. This fire did not start by itself. A conspiracy lit the place on fire. Such fires occur when a government is corrupt.” He called for an investigation by sitting high court judges.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Congress' media cell in charge, KK Mishra, said, “When an army retreats, it sets afire and destroys all its bunkers, so the enemy does not know their whereabouts. This is a similar situation, when the ruling party is destroying its corruption bunkers before the elections. The evidence of BJP’s massive corruption is being destroyed,” he alleged.
He said, "Almost a fortnight ago, during a press conference, I predicted that since the BJP is losing, the government offices will catch fire to burn the files."
"This is not the first fire incident when the election is near," he claimed. "Before the 2013 Assembly polls, a similar fire broke out. Similarly, a record room of the Bhopal Municipal Corporation was gutted at midnight a week after BJP lost government in Madhya Pradesh."
“In the BJP regime, such incidents repeatedly occur before the Assembly elections. It happened in 2018 and 2013 when offices of the ‘cream’ of departments caught fire. Health, transport, Ayush, Vyapam, nursing, NHM, and Corona are the departments where fires start two to four months before Assembly elections,” Mishra alleged.
“Why before Assembly elections? Why not before the Lok Sabha elections? Why is there no fire in CM House or the residences of bureaucrats in Char Imli?” he asked.
(with PTI inputs)
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