Over 20 incidents of major fire were reported in recent years in Shastri Bhawan, North Block, South Block and Nirman Bhawan, housing important Union ministries.
According to records with the Delhi Fire Service, fire tenders were pressed into service on as many as 56 occasions. These include incidents of major and minor fire. There were also a few incidents of false alarm. Fire officials say that these might be cases of poor maintenance or old wirings that have not been changed for years.
Since 2012, Shastri Bhawan, which is the most “notorious” among all the buildings in question, has reported the most number of major fires — 12. Shastri Bhawan houses important Government of India ministries, such as the Ministry of Coal, Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Ministry of Chemicals and Petrochemicals, among others. Even Rashtrapati Bhawan has called fire tenders into action on as many as 85 occasions since 2006.
The Central Secretariat, which includes the North Block and South Block buildings, has not been spared as well. North Block has seen five incidents of major fire in recent years, three of which were in 2012, one in 2010 and the latest in March 2014. North Block houses the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Home Affairs. South Block, which houses the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of External Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has also seen three incidents of fire since 2011, the latest being the April 2014 incident which took place near the PMO.
“Shastri Bhawan has seen a lot of major incidents of fire and this is worrying. It has become a regular event now. We don’t know why so many incidents of fire have occurred in the building over these years. It might be poor maintenance or old wirings. We can’t say for sure. But their officials concerned should look into it. It is an important building. Some of the most important ministries are housed in it,” said G.C. Misra, Chief Fire Officer of the Delhi Fire Services (DFS).
Questioned on the fire safety clearances of these buildings, Misra said, “All the buildings have fire clearances. We conduct regular checks. The clearance certificate needs to be renewed every two years and it is granted only if the safety apparatus is found to be appropriate and functional.”
“Most of them (in Rashtrapati Bhawan) are minor incidents. They are usually false alarms, or someone smoking around smoke sensors and such cases. Rashtrapati Bhawan is quite safe. On the other hand, Central Secretariat offices have seen quite a few fire incidents. In several cases, important files were damaged. Same is the case with Shastri Bhawan. Several files in various ministries have been gutted due to these incidents. This, I think, is the fallout of ignorance toward these critical issues,” Misra said.
A few kilometres away, Nirman Bhawan, that houses the Urban Development Ministry and Housing Ministry, have been on fire 23 times in the past six years.
Officials working in these offices don’t feel that security arrangements in either of the buildings are up to the mark. “There is CCTV surveillance, but only in the hallways and common working areas. What happens inside the rooms of officers, nobody knows. It is curious that even after obtaining all the fire clearances required by law, these buildings regularly report such incidents,” said a senior bureaucrat working in the Ministry of Finance at the North Block.
“It is also a curious coincidence that fire breaks out on floors that house ministries that have reported huge scams in the past like Coal, Petroleum, Finance, I&B. No matter what the reality is, the truth is that sensitive ministries report many ‘accidental fires’. Even if they are accidental, they should be checked. Governments have changed. Officials have changed. It should’ve been stopped by now,” a DCP in the Delhi Police said.