Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Kerala Secretariat Fire: Opposition Alleges Files Related To Gold Smuggling Case Destroyed

Kerala Secretariat Fire: Opposition Alleges Files Related To Gold Smuggling Case Destroyed

The Kerala government has appointed an expert panel to look into the incident and asked it to submit the report within a week, while the crime branch will also probe the matter.

Fire broke out at the Kerala secretariat complex Tuesday, 25 August. ANI/Twitter

High drama was witnessed at the secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday after a minor fire broke out at the protocol department, with Opposition Congress and BJP alleging that important files relating to the gold smuggling case were destroyed, while the Kerala government suspected a “conspiracy” by both parties.

The Congress demanded an NIA probe into the matter, while state BJP chief K Surendran courted arrest for forcefully entering the complex soon after the fire broke out.

The state government has appointed an expert panel to look into the incident and asked it to submit the report within a week, while the crime branch will also probe the matter.

"A special team headed by Disaster Management Commissioner Kaushik has been appointed to probe the technical reason behind the fire that broke out in the secretariat, and to file the report within a week," the chief secretary's office said in a release.

The crime branch team will be headed by ADGP Manoj Abraham.

Chief Secretary Vishwas Mehta and other senior officials, including members of the probe team, have already visited the spot.

The incident happened on the second floor of the North Sandwich Block where certain sections of the General Administration and the tourism department are functioning.

Fire department sources told PTI that their personnel at nearby Chenkalchoola were informed about the incident at 4.45 pm and by the time they reached the spot, the room was filled with smoke.

"We first opened the windows and doors to let the smoke out. As per our initial assessment, the source of the fire was a switch on the wall, from where the blaze spread to the floor. Some files were partially burnt," a senior fire force official said.

The government sources, however, said no important files were destroyed in the incident.

Soon after the fire broke out, BJP state president K Surendran reached the secretariat along with other workers and demanded that they be allowed inside.

However, police removed them from the spot and later took Surendran into custody for forcefully entering the complex.

Mehta, who was at the secretariat, came out to control the commotion. He along with the police forcefully evicted the BJP workers and media from the complex.

"We just came to know about the incident. I did not even get time to visit the section. Even before that, you all are here asking questions. Let me first go and check the place. We will give you the details," Mehta told reporters outside the complex.

Later, Leader of the Opposition (LoP) in the Assembly Ramesh Chennithala arrived at the spot and squatted in front of the Cantonment gate of the secretariat, demanding entry into the complex.

Chennithala, who was later allowed inside, told media that "three sections caught fire".

"Many important files were destroyed. Many files related to the gold smuggling case have been destroyed, as also those related to VVIP designation. We have decided to observe a black day on Wednesday and demand an NIA probe into the matter," he asserted.

Youth Congress activists and Yuva Morcha workers organised protest marches to the secretariat which turned violent with police using water cannons to disperse them.

The activists burnt tyres and effigy of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in front of the secretariat.

The LoP and other party MLAs later met Governor Arif Mohamed Khan and raised their concerns over the matter.

Meanwhile, state minister E P Jayarajan, in a video message, alleged that the BJP and the Congress tried to create violence inside the secretariat complex.

"The security officials and police reached the spot and contained the fire. But BJP and Congress leaders came together and tried to create violence inside the secretariat. It seems a conspiracy was hatched to create a violent atmosphere here. Their presence inside the secretariat and their action force us to question if they are involved in the incident. The government will conduct a comprehensive probe," Jayarajan said.

The Opposition Congress and the BJP alleged that many important files have been destroyed in the fire.

However, government sources dismissed the charge and told PTI that all departments in the secretariat have the e-filing system and no file would ever go missing.

P Honey, Additional Secretary, Housekeeping Cell at the secretariat, told reporters that "none of the important files have been destroyed and they are all safe".

There were only two people in the office at the time of the incident as the remaining staff had gone on quarantine after one of the staff was confirmed with COVID-19.

The Opposition has been attacking the Left-led Kerala government over the seizure of around 30 kg of gold smuggled in a diplomatic baggage addressed to the UAE consulate. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), customs and the Enforcement Directorate are probing the case.