Mantralaya fire continues second day

Mumbai, June 22 (IANS) The fire in the Maharashtra Mantralaya or secretariat which claimed two lives, and injured over a dozen more here continued Friday morning, with officials saying the blaze was under control but yet to be fully doused.

A major fire broke out Thursday afternoon in room 411 on the fourth floor and quickly spread, engulfing the three top floors of the six storied iconic Mantralaya building in the heart of South Mumbai.

Fire brigade and city disaster control cell officials said that efforts were on to douse the fire that continued Friday morning.

Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has ordered an inquiry by the Crime Branch into the incident to ascertain whether it was an accident, negligence or sabotage.

Although the rescue teams, comprising of the fire brigade, the police, an Indian Navy team and Force One commandoes and 41 fire tenders from Mumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai, and other agencies, managed to evacuate and save the 65-odd people trapped on the upper floors, two dead bodies were recovered late in the evening.

Two charred bodies were recovered from outside Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar's office on the sixth floor of the Mantralaya.

"Two dead bodies - both males - have been found outside an office on the sixth floor," a fire official said late Thursday.

Chavan, who held an emergency meeting Thursday evening, discussed the situation with other ministers and planned alternative arrangements for ministers to function till the situation normalised at the state government's administrative headquarters.

"A first-hand assessment of the situation arising out of the fire, the probable causes and precautionary measures to be undertaken for the future were discussed at the meeting," an official said.

The blaze, which badly gutted the three top floors, has virtually paralysed the functioning of several top political heads and bureaucrats of key departments including the Chief Minister, Deputy Chief Minister, Revenue, Tribal Welfare, Forests, Urban Development and Housing, Education, besides the offices of the state chief secretary, the State Disaster Management Cell.

A main control tower atop the Mantralaya which is linked to all the district headquarters in the state has also been damaged and rendered non-functional, besides damage to furniture and fittings, computers, original files and documents of various departments pertaining to important official decisions.

While most ministers and top officials have small offices in government's administrative headquarters, there could be security related issues as some 1,500 men and women work in the landmark building, which gets an equal number of visitors every day.