It's been five days since a massive fire raged through Mantralaya, devouring files and computers that came in its way, gutting four floors; five days since five lives were lost to the blaze, but the Democratic Front government is still searching for answers, as its officials sift through the debris.
The burning question now is what caused the fire - but ministers appear ill-at-ease to offer answers, casting a shadow of gloom over the government's credibility. It is the answer to this crucial question that will provide a key to understanding not only which of the babus is to be punished, but will also shed light on what not to do in future to prevent a repeat of the catastrophe.
Meanwhile, MiD DAY has stumbled upon some disturbing data. Server rooms in the building are in a deplorable state, with their twisted wires and cables doubling up as freeways for the healthy rodent population of the building. It is one such server room in the fourth floor of the building that is reported to have been the source of the fire.
According to sources, relevant departments in Mantralaya - the Public Works and Information Technology - showed shocking apathy in responding to complaints received from different departments about the unkempt mesh of cables and wires dangling atop back-up batteries, thereby offering the building's mice and rats safe and welcoming niches in which to build their homes. MiD DAY has photographs (right) of one such server in the ground floor of the main building - back-up batteries, cables, wires in a tangled mess.
It has been revealed that for long, officials of departments have been complaining about the web of loose cables and wires surrounding the servers installed by the IT department. Mice would often gnaw at these wires, causing glitches. It is said that six letters were sent to the PWD from the office of the Director General of Information & Public Relations, where one such server exists. The letters requested that officials from the IT department be sent to address the problem, even cautioning against fire. Instead of getting the wires sorted out, the PWD simply placed traps for rodents near the servers.
The rodent menace continued, and finally, the BMC's help was taken for the installation of permanent mousetraps. Learning its lessons late, officials of the IT department inspected the servers only yesterday, in the wake of the inferno. Also, the urban development department, headed by the CM, issued orders that fire safety audit be conducted in all state-owned buildings within a month. Civic bodies across the state are also being asked to carry out a similar exercise.
Cagey about pointing fingers, CM Prithviraj Chavan said yesterday that no particular department or individual could be held responsible for the blaze until the official inquiry had been completed. He also insisted that the fire had broken out not in a server room, but a room that houses switchboards. "We have learnt lessons and are ready to learn more. We will find out who was at fault. All the related points will be given to the investigation team and an inquiry committee of experts will also work on it," he said.
In the meantime, PWD minister has been quick to pass the buck, saying that it is not the PWD, but the General Administration Department that is the controlling authority for the building, as accountable for the disaster.