Chidambaram drives away from North Block after inspecting the fire control operations on Sunday. (Reuters)
New Delhi, June 24: The Ford zoomed past. Behind the wheel was a familiar face. The country’s home minister.
It was 42.4 degrees Celsius, but Delhi’s frying pan was far from P. Chidambaram’s mind as he raced towards the fire.
A “minor” fire broke out in a room adjoining Chidambaram’s office in North Block today — minor enough to be doused within 8 minutes after the first fire engine reached the spot — but not before it had sent officials and media persons into a tizzy on a Sunday afternoon.
Even the Opposition was at the scene, drawn by the smoke of “conspiracy”.
The Delhi Fire Service said the blaze was “minor” while officials said there were no casualties or any major damage. “Fire control informed they got a call at 2.20pm and the first fire engine arrived at 2.27pm. Before 2.35pm, the fire was extinguished. The fire was on an outer window of a ventilator of a staircase. The cause of the fire is being investigated,” ministry spokesperson Kuldeep Dhatwalia said.
But last week’s conflagration at the Maharashtra government headquarters, which claimed nearly half a dozen lives and destroyed documents, was probably at the back of the mind of the ministry top brass as they raced towards North Block.
The first-floor room No. 102, where the fire broke out, is used for meetings and, apart from being adjacent to Chidambaram’s office, is near the chambers of junior home minister Mullappally Ramachandran and minister of state for personnel V. Narayanasamy.
So even as eight fire engines were on the job, Chidambaram drove in to monitor the operations to control the blaze.
Did he break the 50kmph speed limit? Only the speedometer knows.
Home secretary R.K. Singh and Delhi police commissioner B.K. Gupta were at the spot within minutes of the fire service being informed.
BJP Delhi unit chief Vijender Gupta, too, was at the scene and lost little time in sniffing a conspiracy, though it was clear to everybody present that room 102 didn’t store any documents.
Chidambaram and the top officials left after being convinced that the fire had been put out. Officials from the Central Forensic Science Laboratory also inspected the spot.
Fire service director A.K. Sharma described the blaze as minor but refused to speculate on the cause. “The fire was a minor one. We have doused it. The fire was restricted to only one room,” Sharma said.
“There were not many people inside the building. The cause could be due to some electrical (malfunction). I would not like to confirm it before ascertaining it.”
Sharma said the police control room conveyed to the fire service that smoke was billowing out of a window in North Block, after which the fire tenders were rushed to the spot.
Sources said it could be a case of short circuit in an air-conditioner that may have been left running over the weekend.
“One possibility is a short circuit…. It’s just one part of the window that caught fire and it was put out very quickly. Four or five electrical cables were burnt,” home secretary Singh said.
Dushyant Singh, the chief security officer in the home ministry, said there was no damage to the offices of the three ministers.