20 fire engines and 19 water tankers were pressed in as fire broke out at the GST Bhavan in Mazgaon area Monday. (Photo: Nirmal Harindran)
A major fire broke out in the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bhavan in Mazgaon on Monday afternoon. It took 20 fire engines and 19 jumbo water tankers over three hours to douse the fire. Nobody was injured as the building was evacuated before the fire spread. However, important files in the audit section of the GST department were destroyed.
The building houses offices of GST collection units and also some operational wings of the erstwhile sales tax department. Together, these two departments contribute nearly Rs 1.40 lakh crore of state revenue. Many important files pertaining to tax dues and tax collections, including those of top corporate houses, are kept in this structure.
According to the Mumbai Fire Brigade, around 12.30 pm the fire started on the ninth floor of GST Bhavan and spread to the eighth and tenth floors. As there was a lot of woodwork and papers strewn around, the ninth floor was completely gutted. According to employees of GST Bhavan, alertness of staff led to the safe evacuation of people inside the building.
”There was spark and smoke from one of the locked cabins on the ninth floor. Someone spotted it and alerted others. The fire alarm was activated following which people on the other floors evacuated the building in time,” said Uday Balapure, a peon in the building.
The department’s own fire fighting unit first tried to douse the blaze; however, due to the intensity of the fire the Mumbai Fire Brigade was called in. Subodh Kirloskar, an employee in the building and a member of GST Employees Union, said the building was undergoing repairs following a structural audit. “Since October, the building was under repair,” he said.
As per a report, there were over 2,200 employees in the building at the time, of which 30 were on the ninth floor. All, including an employee stuck on the fifth floor, was rescued by the fire brigade.
According to a GST department official, as the building was about 50 years old the Public Works Department (PWD) had appointed VJTI (Veer Jijabai Technical Institute) for a structural audit. The report, submitted in 2019, had suggested repairs along with razing the tenth floor to reduce the building’s load. “About 15 years back after staff strength increased the tenth floor was constructed. However, after the audit suggested removing the tenth floor, we shifted staff from the tenth and eighth floors to MTNL office in Byculla. Work to raze the tenth floor was on,” an official said.
After eighth floor staff moved to the MTNL office, ninth floor staff shifted to the eighth floor. PWD officials said while the building was constructed in 1965, the new portions were built in 1972. It was used as an office of the Sales Tax department. However, later after GST replaced all other taxes, it was turned into GST Bhavan in 2017.
Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, who was attending an NCP meeting in South Mumbai, rushed to the spot where he monitored fire fighting efforts. “There will be an inquiry to ascertain the cause of the fire. Even if files were destroyed, there is nothing to worry as they had been digitized also.”
Later, municipal commissioner Praveen Pardeshi too reached the site. “There was fire compliance in the building. I have instructed all government buildings to maintain fire safety. Repairs were going on as per the structural audit of the building,” he said.
Meanwhile, Opposition leader in BMC, Ravi Raja, has demanded a SIT inquiry alleging that the fire was triggered deliberately to save people who had not paid Goods and Services Tax.