A major fire broke out at the headquarters of the Asansol-Durgapur Development Authority (ADDA) here early on Tuesday, triggering an apprehension that important documents related to land, tenders and development projects were charred.
However, ADDA chairman Tapas Banerjee said all documents were safe as most of them had been digitised.
The ADDA is a nodal agency of the Bengal government to implement development projects and the authorised lessor of commercial and domestic plots in its 1,600sqkm area of operation in West Burdwan.
Altogether, 12 firefighting engines of the fire brigade, SAIL, Damodar Valle Corporation (DVC) and Kazi Nazrul Islam Airport at nearby Andal were pressed into service and took almost eight hours to douse the blaze that broke out at 2am. One firefighter fell sick during the operation and was hospitalised.
A preliminary report of the fire department said a short-circuit had caused the blaze. ADDA chairman and Trinamul Congress MLA Tapas Banerjee has ordered a forensic probe into the incident.
“I have ordered a forensic probe to know the actual reason behind the devastating fire. Let us now work to reopen the office soon,” he said.
ADDA officials said the office would remain closed till the restoration work was over. A temporary camp office will be set up to carry out office work.
Sources said the fire had broken out on the second floor of the three-storey building, where the ADDA office is located. The sources added that furniture, and computer and record rooms were gutted. The fire brigade officials said they had arrived at the spot within 10 minutes of getting the information.
The flames did not reach two nationalised banks and two state-run cooperative banks located on the ground floor of the building. The first floor was not affected either.
The fire officials alleged that the building did not have basic firefighting measures in place. They also said the building lacked a water reservoir from where water could be used in such emergencies.
“We faced severe difficulties and a water crisis after we exhausted our stock. We had to fetch water from sources far away, which delayed work,” said Subhrangshu Majumder, divisional fire officer of Durgapur.
Another fire official said they didn’t notice any fire extinguishing system or fire alarm in the building.
ADDA chairman, however, said there were several water bodies in nearby areas and hence, there was no need to have a separate reservoir on the premises. He said it was not possible to install a modern fire-extinguishing system in the old building as it would be a costly exercise.
ADDA building was constructed in 1972 but the present government carried out repair and renovation work recently.
Several people, including businessmen and contractors, expressed concern that necessary documents of their interest could have been gutted in the fire.
Sources in the ADDA said almost all computers and furniture were destroyed. While ADDA officials said it was an accidental fire, Opposition parties saw it as an attempt to destroy “evidence” of corruption.
“We have been receiving information of malpractices in the commercial land distribution of the ADDA. The fire may be a sabotage to destroy evidence,” said Lakkhan Ghorui, local BJP MLA.
CPM district secretariat member Pankaj Roy Sarkar said the government didn’t install a proper fire extinguishing system at the ADDA headquarters.
“Recently, ADDA chairman expressed worry as he came to know that some important files had gone missing. We doubt the fire was a ploy to destroy the evidence of malpractices,” he said.
However, ADDA chairman Banerjee said: “All duplicate copies of documents are kept safe in our office in Asansol as well. The documents can be found online. Our main server room was safe. The Opposition parties are trying to politicise an accident.”