A major fire broke out in the New Secretariat building, the state government’s landmark high-rise, at Strand Road on the banks of the Hoogly on Friday morning. Though no one was injured, two ministers’ rooms and a departmental secretary’s room were gutted. Besides, many important government documents were destroyed in the blaze in the beginning of office hour.
The fire originated on the seventh floor at around 10 am and then spread to the eighth floor, with dark smoke billowing out of the windows. Flashes of raging flames were visible from outside. Government employees and others rushed out of the building. The cause of fire is yet to be ascertained. The 12-storey establishment houses a number of government departments, including the panchayat, public health engineering, transport, power and public works. The blaze considerably damaged panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee’s chamber and office at the seventh floor in Block A. Power minister Manish Gupta’s office was also affected.
Mr Mukherjee was among the first to reach the building after receiving news of the fire. He said, “Like other days, the AC machines were switched on at the office by the departmental staff at around 10 am before my arrival. I do not know what happened later. But the flames devastated nearly five rooms, including mine and the power minister’s. The documents dumped in the corridor were also burnt.”
Around 25 fire engines were pressed into service. Civil defence and the Kolkata police’s disaster management group personnel joined them.
Director-general (fire and emergency services) Sanjoy Mukherjee said, “When we launched our operation, the fire was in a giant shape. Our target was to restrict it at any cost.” Traffic along Strand Road and Kiran Shankar Roy Road was suspended by the police. The entire area was cordoned off immediately.
The fire brigade personnel however faced challenge due to the heavy smoke while reaching the seventh floor by stairs. Wearing oxygen mask they broke the window glasses to make their entry. The fire travelled through the false ceiling at the seventh floor after breaking out, preliminary investigations revealed.
Fire and emergency services minister Javed Ahmed Khan, Kolkata Mayor Sovan Chatterjee and police commissioner Surajit Kar Purkayastha rushed to the spot. Mr Chatterjee said, “There is no report of any casualty or injury.” After a three-hour-long fight the blaze was brought under control.
Later joint commissioner of police (crime) Pallab Kanti Ghosh inspected the spot. But the cause of fire is yet to be ascertained.
The fire brigade officials suspect that an electric short circuit in the AC machines may have caused the fire. But the detective department is looking into the possibility of sabotage. A forensic experts’ team will visit the building on Saturday to collect samples for examination.
This was the second blaze at the building within a month after the fire which broke out at its third floor. Mr Khan then chaired a meeting with the police, electricity and PWD officials instructed them for revamping the wiring system at all government buildings.