A fire raged through the top four floors of the eight-storey Mantralaya, Maharashtra’s seat of power, through most of Thursday. The blaze has reportedly destroyed thousands of sensitive documents, computer files and records, many pertaining to land use, de-reservation and the crucial Adarsh society scam. Mantralaya has 2,500 to 3,000 employees and on any given day about 3,000 visitors. Apart from Ajit Pawar, home minister R R Patil, minister of state for home Satej Patil, EGS minister Nitin Raut and chief secretary Jayantkumar Banthia were among those in the building when disaster struck. Additional chief secretary (home) Amitabh Rajan and NCP leader Vinayak Mete escaped using a fire ladder from the top floors.
The fire badly exposed the lack of preparedness of Mumbai’s fire brigade and the poor fire safety equipment in the state’s most important building. It raised awkward questions about the government’s desire to build vertically in the city and allow towers when it struggled to control a blaze in a ground-plus-seven storey building.
In frightening scenes, many employees, including women on the higher floors, frantically tried to escape from the 57-year-old building. They crowded on balconies or perched on window sills and ledges. The scenes of people clambering down water pipes were reminiscent of recent highrise fires in Kolkata and Bangalore.