First the good news: The original files on Adarsh are safe. Contrary to widespread but uninformed speculation, the files are with the Central Bureau of Investigation at their office at Tanna House, Colaba.
"We collected all the important files pertaining to Adarsh from Mantralaya over eighteen months ago," a senior CBI officer who did not wish to be named told this newspaper.
But the fire that gutted three floors of the headquarters of the state government, and which was raging at the time of going to press, has resulted in incalculable loss of data, exposing the old-style babugiri behind the façade of what's a modern building.
“There would be approximately 15 lakh files in the building, of which 2.26 lakh have been scanned and stored in the central server,” disclosed Information technology secretary Rajesh Agarwal. For the rest, the tally of losses will continue for months.
The massive amount of papers, discarded wooden furniture across floors and the maze of wires all contributed to the rapid spread of the fire that began as a short-circuit in the office of Tribal welfare minister Babanrao Pachpute on the fourth floor of the 57-year-old building.
The blaze engulfed the fourth, fifth, sixth and the seventh floors of the building. They house the Ministries of Home, Urban Development, Forests, Revenue, Relief and Rehabilitation, Energy, Education, Higher and Technical Education, Housing, and Co-operation; the offices of the chief secretary, the chief minister, the deputy chief minister and the crucial general administration department.
» According to early estimates, some of the important files lost that will set back many projects include paperwork on the Churchgate-Virar elevated corridor.
|Raju Shinde, photographer: “I walked around the building and reached Arsa Gate, the entrance to Mantralaya that was being used by most the fire engines. One of the policemen on duty helped me get in. Even as I was clicking, the flames on the fourth floor seemed to engulf the entire building. There were so many firefighters around but they were finding it very difficult to control the fire. It was complete chaos.”
» Files recommending action against errant officers of various civic bodies statewide were lost from the office of UD secretary-II Manukumar Srivastava.
» The revenue department, which has not scanned most of its files, lost all paperwork pertaining to allotment of lands to co-operative societies, educational institutions and many individuals. “We have to now start studying our loss,” said additional chief secretary Swadheen Kshatriya.
» In the home department on the seventh floor, officials confirmed complete loss of data. “We have lost all papers related to records of police officers, suspensions, inquiries, and intelligence inputs and communication with the Centre. I asked a fire officer who said that our computers are gutted, so there is no chance of retrieving the data,’’ said an under-secretary who did not wish to b identified.
» In the general administration department on the fifth and the sixth floors, data pertaining to suspension, service records and all files of government employees and bureaucrats are gone. “I do not know how appraisals of performances will happen now,” said an IAS officer attached to the department.
» On the sixth floor, office of the secretary to the chief minister, Nitin Kareer, was gutted, taking with it nearly 300 files, many of them related to controversial urban development issues and permissions to builders. Also lost were applications from the needy to the Chief Minister’s relief funds as also the cheques that were ready for disbursal.
» Chief secretary Jayant Banthia’s office on the fifth floor lost an important file about a PIL related to scams in irrigation projects and the minutes of all Cabinet meetings.
» At least three known important files from the finance department were gone when the fire swept across deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar’s sixth floor office. Pawar also holds the finance portfolio.
» Chief minister Prithvirj Chavan had a meeting with Union Home minister P Chidambaram last week and files on naxal counter strategy and jail deaths which were lying in his office on the sixth-floor office of his principal secretary Ajitkumar Jain are gone. Also lost from there is the hot potato report on the distribution of MHADA land to influential individuals during the tenure of former CMs Sushilkumar Shinde and Vilasrao Deshmukh.
These are only early estimates. Just as the body count from the tragedy is going up, the loss of crucial papers too will only grow.