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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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College fire probe hints at sabotage

Guwahati, March 28: The fire that ravaged Guwahati's B. Borooah College early this month was the handiwork of miscreants who probably intended to destroy answerscripts kept in the examination branch of the 62-year-old institution, a magisterial probe has revealed.

The report, submitted to Kamrup (metropolitan) deputy commissioner Samir Kumar Sinha, recommended a thorough 'criminal investigation' to trace the culprits behind the suspected sabotage, a source involved in the probe disclosed to The Telegraph.

Sinha declined to make any comment except that he had received the report, which he would formally submit to the government within the next 24 hours. The magisterial inquiry had been instituted by the government in the wake of the public uproar over the incident. Sub-divisional officer (Sadar) D.R. Rajbangshi conducted the probe.

Over 850 answerscripts of students who sat for the higher secondary and bachelor's degree examinations were destroyed in the blaze, which occurred on March 3. The origin of the fire was in the examination branch of the old college building, which fuelled suspicion about sabotage. Only the zoology and physics departments, the newly-built auditorium and the library escaped the inferno.

The source said the probe report, running into nearly eight pages, hints that miscreants may have started the fire with inflammable chemicals. The probe confirmed that the cause of the fire was neither an electrical short-circuit nor an LPG cylinder explosion, as was originally believed.

'Electrical short-circuit has been ruled out since all the lights were on when the fire broke out in the examination hall. An LPG cylinder blast has been ruled out, too, because there was no explosion until about half-an-hour after the fire began. A cylinder exploded only after fire-tenders reached the spot,' the official said.

The statements of all faculty members, non-teaching staff and principal Rekha Deka were recorded during the inquiry.

The fire apparently spread very fast and destroyed all the answerscripts. However, a chequebook, bank passbook, Rs 4,500 in cash and other documents kept in the locker of the adjacent room of the examination branch were found to have escaped the flames.

Though the report does not hint at the involvement of any of the teachers or other college staff, sources said the administration had sought an explanation from the management on why the answerscripts of all the examinations held between February 22 and March 3 were kept in the examination room.

There are standing instructions that answerscripts should be despatched to the zonal offices of the Assam Higher Secondary Education Council and Gauhati University on the very day an examination is conducted. In the event of logistical problems, the answerscripts have to be deposited in the nearest police station or in the treasury office.

The Assam Higher Secondary Education Council has instituted a separate inquiry into the blaze.

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