Burning questions on Mumbai inferno that cost lives
By Ganesh N - MUMBAI
Published: 24th Jun 2012 11:42:46 AM
As the government and investigating agencies try to delve deeper into the Maharashtra Mantralaya fire, lapses are coming to light on steps that could have prevented the destruction of official records, government property and the loss of five lives.
Midway during the fire-fighting operations, hours before the charred bodies were found, an elated Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan credited the ‘zero casualty’ due to regular fire drills at Mantarlaya. The loss of lives and destruction of everything in 5.17 lakh sq ft space spread out in four levels of Mantralaya from a fire the that started from a short circuit in one of the offices speaks volumes about the fire drill that CM Chavan boasted off. The fact is that mock fire drills were never conducted could be seen from the fact that all employees, ministers and officials ignored the fire alarm.
Notwithstanding lack of regular fire drills, a public address system would have been very effective in getting the people evacuated from the building. Surprisingly the Mantralaya that houses the CM’s office, 40 odd cabinet ministers, 6000 employees and thousands of visitors did not have public address system. Moreover the senior IPS officers who had arrived at the site did not use loud speakers to guide the persons trapped inside.
The fact that Mantralaya has a designated fire officer was also news to the officers who had no clue about the person or his contact number. Mumbai fire chief Suhas Joshi is on record saying that his men received no help from the Mantralaya fire officer. Whether the Mantralaya fire officer was present during crisis is also being questioned. As it turns out, the officer was appointed at Mantralaya without any designated responsibility.
The air-conditioning units which were haphazardly placed near the windows had further fueled the fire as compressors exploded after being engulfed in the heat and flame. Such a large building should have had central air-conditioning unit.
There are hundreds of hand held fire-extinguishers that have been randomly placed in the corridors and offices. “Fire extinguishing cylinders could have been used to control the fire in its initial stages. However these extinguishers were useless as our office staff were never trained to use them,” said a desk officer from the ill-fated 4th floor of Mantralaya. He lamented how sand buckets placed on every floor to be used for electrical fire had been turned into spittoons.
There were other lapses too. For instance Force One, a specialized anti-terrorist outfit was summoned and kept on stand by near Mantralaya. “What were the police officers thinking when they summoned Force One? The situation demanded that some person with authority, preferably from the police, take charge of disaster management and rescue operations. Instead police officers were deployed to handle law and order situation, something that was not required at that time,” said advocate Y P Singh, former IPS officer. The helicopter dispatched by the Indian Navy to rescue any persons who had managed to come to the terrace had fanned the flames further. As “Helicopters are strictly no-no for fire scenario as its rotors fans the flames further. This looked like nobody was in-charge,” said a Mumbai fire officer.