Mumbai: Mantralaya Fire - Indifference, Chaos, and Lucky Escape...
Navin D'Cunha, Mumbai
Mumbai, Jun 22: I was on the third floor of the Mantralaya when the fire broke on Thursday June 21 afternoon. It was a harrowing experience with chaos everywhere.
Before I entered the building a small short circuit had already occurred. People outside the Mantralaya though had no idea of what had happened inside and what was going to happen in a few minutes. I took my pass and went inside. The corridors smelled of burnt cables but everyone went about their usual business making gestures with their nose every now and then.
About 15 minutes later, after finishing my work, I headed back to my car where my wife and baby daughter were waiting. I was glad I told them to wait in the car as my wife had wanted to accompany me inside.
As I moved through the 3rd floor corridor, I saw smoke coming out through the 4th floor windows. It wasn’t much but was a sure indicator of something big to come. The staff there was just taking pictures, laughing and joking about it. It didn’t strike anyone to pick up the fire extinguisher. I even overheard one lady saying “last year the same floor had a short circuit”
As I moved through the stairs, the commotion seemed to increase. By the time I reached the ground floor, people came in hundreds behind me shouting and screaming. I was afraid more of getting injured in the stampede than the fire. The revolving doors at the entrance/exit made it more difficult to escape the building. One lady got stuck and started screaming for help. Someone from the back shouted in a loud voice “calm down and exit the building slowly.” It was only when I got to the outside that I could see the extent of damage done. The sky was filled with black smoke coming from the 4th floor. I was lucky to get out before the fire became major. I went to my car where I saw the relieved faces of my wife and daughter.
After that things went from bad to worse. Several explosions were heard. People on the ground began speculating, bomb blast, gas cylinders, AC compressors, it was utter chaos. It was not surprising to see the media arrive before the fire brigade. Fire engines rushed to the spot but seemed helpless as fire rose from one floor to another. People tried to lighten the mood through humour: “Adarsh scam files are burnt, now the ministers will get a clean chit.”
The footpath opposite the Mantralaya was blocked by onlookers and a few ministers with their armed security behind them. The roads were blocked so we were stuck for 2 hours along with a dozen other cars. The new Administrative building opposite the Mantralaya locked it’s gates as the babus there were too busy relishing the fire and acting as expert arsonists. The only thing missing from their hands was popcorn.
If the government cannot control fire on it own premises how can the common man feel safe. The ministers have a lot of questions coming their way and I hope people don’t take this lying down.