Monday, 30th October 2017

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Research institute counts cost of blaze

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  • Published 4.05.11

Research data collected from across the country over years, maps plotting endangered tribes and other valuable documents are feared lost in Monday night’s blaze in the Fireproof Spirit Building in the Indian Museum complex.

The fire nearly gutted most of the 2,300sq ft Scientific Enclave on the fourth floor of the building that houses various departments of the Anthropological Survey of India.

A short circuit in an air-conditioner is suspected to have sparked the blaze around 9pm. Eleven fire engines took five hours to put out the flames.

Around 8am on Tuesday, the administrative head of the anthropological survey, D.N. Pande, entered the damaged part of the building along with some scientists and guards.

“Molten computers and printers and burnt documents were lying around. Portions of the false ceiling were falling off every time a gust of wind blew in. The furniture and walls are damaged beyond repair,” said Pande.

According to him, about a dozen computers in the Electronic Data Processing (EDP) unit, maps in the human ecology and digital cartography section and furniture in the cultural and physical anthropological sections were gutted.

“I had done a detailed project on the tribal groups in the Sunderbans. I had given the documents to the EDP section for digitisation and statistical analysis. All the documents are probably gone,” said Durgapada Biswas, a scientist in the cultural anthropology section.

The specially made doors that shut automatically soon after the flames broke out prevented the fire from spreading to other departments on the floor. “We also have a DNA bank and ancient skeletons on the same floor. The special steel doors saved them,” added Biswas.

With no power in the building since Monday night, officials fear that the stored DNA and blood samples, which have to be preserved at –80 degrees Celsius, will be of no use. CESC will restore power only after a clearance from the firemen.

“We have power back-up that can maintain the temperature at which the DNA samples are stored for 26 hours. After that, the temperature will climb and the samples will be damaged,” said Tapan Biswas, a scientist in the DNA laboratory.

The scientists are trying to get hold of a generator that can be used if power is not restored till late on Tuesday.

Firemen, state forensic department officers and CESC officials toured the building on Tuesday.

“The building lacked proper fire-safety measures. We asked the director of the anthropological survey, who is in the Northeast now, to return and meet us tomorrow. Only then can we give a clearance,” said fire services director Gopal Bhattacharya.

A fireman said the six-storey building on JL Nehru Road, housing the anthropological survey on the top three floors and the Zoological Survey of India on the other three, was constructed as a storehouse for the Indian Museum.

“The auto-shut mechanism of the doors is unsafe. If the fire had started during office hours, people could have been trapped inside and killed,” added the fireman.

“The central government has asked for a detailed report on the cause of the fire and the extent of damage. We will soon file the report,” said an official of the Indian Museum.