The fire that broke out in the government secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday, looks set to remain aflame until the upcoming assembly elections, as indicated by the furore around it in the state. The official version is that it was an accident caused by short circuit in the wall-mounted fan with a faulty wiring in a closed room. The Opposition has alleged that the fire represented a conspiracy to scuttle the probe about the scam of gold smuggling under the cover of diplomatic parcel, involving a top state bureaucrat and a few persons surrounding the chief minister's office. Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala has demanded that National Investigation Agency (NIA) should make an enquiry about the fire, and the governor should urgently summon the chief minister and the chief secretary to seek explanation. The convenor of opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) Benny Behanan also has ruled out trusting any enquiry under the state government. Strangely enough, the ruling party also alleges a conspiracy in the fire incident. Thus the scope of enquiry declared by the cabinet also includes the arrival of BJP state president K Surendran at the scene of incident within a short time. Further, state secretary of the dominant ruling party, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has taken the stand that the probe also should cover the intervention of BJP and Congress leaders. Minister EP Jayarajan, has raised the suspicion that it was an anti-government sabotage attempt.
Truth lies hidden somewhere in the middle of this hullabaloo. The point to note is that neither side treats the fire in the Secretariat as an accident, for which each side has its own theories. However, no one believes that a free and impartial enquiry will take place in the matter. The Congress and BJP are not prepared to put faith in an enquiry at the state government level, and hence the demands for a probe by a central agency. On the other hand, the state government would not take kindly to intervention by NIA. That speaks for the conviction of both sides that any enquiry agency will work as per the wishes of the government that leads it. Therein lies the crux of the matter. It is customary in all similar cases that behind the smoke screen created by such complexities, truth will always lie hidden. In a way, the allegations raised by the Opposition can be taken as the suspicions of the common people of the state who are witness to events that have been unheard of hitherto.
The nexus between the former principal secretary of the chief minister and the accused in the case of gold smuggling via Thiruvananthapuram international airport using the channel of diplomatic baggage, has been unravelled by now. Although unrelated to this particular case, there have been allegations against minister KT Jaleel too. And the fire broke out in the protocol section of the Secretariat where files related to the two allegations were kept. Certain implausible aspects about the incident have also been pointed out. Naturally, any opposition bloc will raise similar charges in such a situation. The core of the charge is that crucial documents related to the gold smuggling were destroyed with the collusion of the government. As such, all the current sound and fury can end once it becomes clear what files were damaged and whether their electronic copies are available. But instead of getting at such facts, both sides seem to be revelling in mutual allegations.
But there are some truths that did shine well in the fire, but later got hidden from public view in its ashes. The safety regulations that should have been followed in the one and a half century old building in question, are not complied with. Several reports which had called for strengthening safety, were ignored in toto. Both the political rulers and the bureaucracy maintain in a complacent attitude of treating fire incidents in the Secretariat as quite natural. This is the case of the nerve centre of the state's administration. It is only a manifestation of inefficiency and the commitment to corruption that even now 20 per cent of the files in the Secretariat are being handled in paper. Because of the loopholes to commit fraud and the facility to make corrections when controversies arise, ministers and officials still prefer paper to e-files. It is for this very reason that administrative reforms still remains a mirage.