The HRBC Building
Calcutta, Sept. 14: A senior fire services official today raised questions on the fire-fighting preparedness of the HRBC Building, where the state secretariat will be shifted next month, saying the Howrah building was not fully safe for the chief minister and other VIPs.
“Not all the hydrants at the building are functioning. Besides, there is lack of water-storage facilities,” the fire services official reportedly told a meeting held at the HRBC Building to discuss preparations for the shift.
His comments surprised many officials, who said they had not expected such questions to be raised barely three weeks before the shift. The meeting was attended by chief secretary Sanjay Mitra and home secretary Basudeb Banerjee.
As part of Mamata Banerjee’s plan to restore and refurbish Writers’ Buildings, 11 departments, including the chief minister’s office, will be moved to the HRBC Building, which will function as the state secretariat from October 5.
A discussion on fire-fighting preparedness was not on the agenda of this morning’s meeting, an official who attended the meeting said.
“The senior fire services official suddenly broached the topic. The chief secretary was apparently annoyed at the comment and said the building, initially planned to house a garment park, had better fire-fighting arrangements than any other government establishment,” he added.
The fire services official, however, stuck to his point and stressed the lack of water-distribution channels across the different floors of the building, adding that the sprinklers were not properly fitted, the source said.
“The fire official also said the department should be allowed to keep one 70-metre ladder at the HRBC Building premises round the clock to ensure prompt response in a possible emergency,” the source added.
But officials overseeing the secretariat shift rejected the proposal, citing “lack of space”. The argument continued for a while before it was decided that a fire-fighting drill would be conducted on September 28.
“If the drill proves the building is a fire risk, there could be problems with meeting the October 5 deadline for shifting the 11 departments,” a PWD official said.
The government can instruct the fire department to issue a no-objection certificate for the HRBC Building. Officials, however, pointed out that the potential fire risk at Writers’ was one reason Mamata had opted for the shift.
Another fire department official told The Telegraph that the HRBC Building’s vulnerability to fires could increase after the shift as the establishment would be stashed with combustible materials such as files, wooden structures and wiring.
“The original fire-fighting plan for the HRBC Building will not be enough because the character of the structure will change. So proper care should be taken to make it fireproof,” the official said.