Crucial papers lost in Mantralaya fire

Ketaki Ghoge

Mumbai, June 22 -- The fire at Mantralaya may have destroyed scores of important files and official records, including copies of documents related to the controversial Adarsh housing scam. Government officials said that investigating authorities have copies of the relevant files. The fire, which started in the urban development department in the state secretariat building, triggered conspiracy theories about sabotage.

There were claims that the fire was set off to destroy documents related to the Adarsh scam. Another claim is that the fire gutted crucial urban land ceiling (ULC) files, which have information on controversial allotments.

UDD officials said the originals of the Adarsh files are with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Adarsh judicial commission probing the scam. Three more copies are with government counsel Anil Sakhare, who said that there were still more with other parties including the defence counsel and society counsel.

A CBI officer added, "We had taken all documents pertaining to Adarsh from UDD, including their hard disks, when we started our investigations."

"Copies of the UDD's Adarsh files were submitted when the judicial commission started its hearing," said a senior official of the judicial commission.

However, several important documents - such as government proposals, legal agreements with private parties and pacts with neighbouring states - may have been lost in the fire that engulfed the chief minister's office, general administration and the chief secretary's office.

"Several files may have been destroyed in the fire," said a senior UDD official. "ULC files pertaining to allotment controversy could not have gone missing, as they are stored in the new administrative building."

CM Prithviraj Chavan said that there were backups thanks to the state digitisation process. "We have scanned 2.27 lakh files from various departments. Around 3.18 crores of pages from these files are scanned."

Preliminary investigations show that the fire broke out from a server room on the fourth floor, between the office of deputy secretary of UDD, Suresh Kakani and forest minister Babanrao Pachpute. The office of additional chief secretary TC Benjamin, principal secretary Manu Kumar Srivastava, deputy secretaries, and the UDD storeroom have been gutted.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.