Shillong, March 4: Meghalaya today got a new government but lost a historical building to a fire that raged perilously close to the Durbar Hall of Raj Bhavan even as the Governor was administering the oath of office to Congress stalwart D.D. Lapang and his 38-member ministry.
There were no interruptions in the swearing-in ceremony in spite of flames engulfing the entire Governor’s secretariat, barely 100 yards from the venue. The fire broke out at 4.25 pm, midway through the proceedings at the Durbar Hall.
Before the police contingent at the venue and Raj Bhavan staff could react to the alarm, much of the century-old building was in flames. The fire-fighters arrived after several sections of the building were gutted.
Nobody was injured in the fire, but the wife of S.K. Tiwari, principal secretary to the Governor, collapsed from suffocation.
The heritage building used to house the principal secretary’s office-cum residence, the deputy secretary’s office and a library of priceless documents. A preliminary investigation indicated that the cause of the fire was a short circuit. The police said the strong wind fanned the flames.
Half-burnt documents pertaining to Nagaland, Assam and a couple of other states of the Northeast were found in the debris. The things that were salvaged include a revolver, some computers, photo albums and partially damaged “highly confidential documents”. Tiwari said the fire had caused “irreparable damage”.
Additional superintendent of police M.K. Dkhar, who recovered the revolver, said a gardener tending the lawns of the Raj Bhavan was among the first to raise an alarm after seeing flames leaping out a room near the parking yard.
For the first 15 minutes, a municipal water carrier was used to douse the flames. It took almost two hours for half-a-dozen fire tenders to bring the fire under control.
Governor M.M. Jacob visited the site immediately after the swearing-in ceremony. He said a thorough inquiry into the incident would be instituted.
Lapang said the fire was “not the best thing to happen” on an important day for him, but dismissed any suggestion of it being an inauspicious start to a new stint as chief minister. The Meghalaya Democratic Alliance leader had been chief minister once before, albeit only for a year.
Paul Lyngdoh, who was being administered the oath of office when the fire was detected, echoed Lapang. “I am not superstitious,” the president of the Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement, one of the constituents of the alliance, told newspersons.
Of the 38 ministers who were sworn in, 28 are of Cabinet rank. They include outgoing chief minister F.A. Khonglam. Three of the Cabinet ministers — Lyngdoh, Charles Pyngrope and Boldness L. Nongrum — and all 10 ministers of state are political greenhorns.
United Democratic Party leader Donkupar Roy is tipped to be the chief minister’s deputy. The first meeting of the new Cabinet is slated for tomorrow.
Nationalist Congress Party general secretary P.A. Sangma had yesterday surprised the Congress-led coalition by announcing that he had garnered the support of 31 legislators and could form the government.