September 2020
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Probe into Secretariat fire has begun: Kerala CM
Thiruvananthapuram/Thrissur: Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Thursday said a probe into the fire incident at the Secretariat here has begun, even as the opposition suspected it to be a "sabotage" to "destroy important files" related to the gold smuggling case. According to preliminary assessment, a few files were partially burnt in the blaze and two teams have been appointed to look into the matter. "A team headed by ADGP Manoj Abraham has started investigating the matter. An expert panel headed by Disaster Management commissioner A Kaushikan is looking into the technical reason behindthe accident," Vijayan said.

The expert panel comprises Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA) member secretary, Fire and Rescue Technical Director, PWD chief engineer and the Chief electrical inspector of the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB). "The teams will ascertain the cause of the fire, assess the loss suffered and suggest steps to be taken to avoid such incidents in the future. The expert panel has been asked to submit a report within a week," he said. Targeting the Left government over the incident, the opposition Congress and BJP said they suspected a "sabotage" to "destroy important files" pertaining to the gold smuggling case. Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Ramesh Chennithala demanded an NIA investigation into the fire, terming it a clear case of "sabotage".

"Important files related to gold smuggling were destroyed in the fire incident. NIA should investigate the case", Chennithala told reporters in Thrissur. He said the Congress-led UDF will continue its protests seeking a probe by the central agency into the incident. He also said the opposition did not have faith in the inquiry being conducted by an expert panel appointed by the state government. Chennithala further said Governor Arif Mohammed Khan has agreed to look into the matter on the basis of the letter sent by him urging to "summon" the chief secretary and the chief minister to seek "explanation" over the "gross negligence" resulting in the fire.

Addressing a press conference in Thiruvananthapuram, BJP state president K Surendran also alleged "sabotage" in the fire on the second floor of the North Sandwich Block where certain sections of the General Administration and the tourism department are functioning. Criticising state Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran for his statement that there was no sabotage in the fire incident, the BJP state chief asked if it was the stand of the state government, then why did the government order an investigation into the incident. Some ministers are making statements to deviate the probe into the case, the BJP leader alleged. "The ministers want to derail the probe into the gold smuggling matter. The government has destroyed all the files related to the gold smuggling in order to escape from the case," Surendran alleged.

The government has maintained that none of the important files were destroyed as the state secretariat had a few years ago moved all its files to the e-files system as part of the paperless secretariat initiative. The workers of Congress, the BJP, the Youth Congress, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha and others had organised protests in Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, Kannur, Kollam among other places since Tuesday seeking resignation of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Police have resorted to the use of water cannons to disperse protesters in Kollam. The workers alleged that the fire was a "move to destroy the files" related to the gold smuggling case. The state government has drawn flak in the gold smuggling case involving a diplomatic baggage addressed to the UAE consulate and the matter is being probed by central agencies including the NIA, Customs and the Enforcement Directorate.

The NIA has arrested many including former employees of the Consulate Swapna Suresh and Sarith. The state government had earlier suspended senior IAS officer and the then IT secretary M Sivashankar, who was also the principal secretary to the chief minister, after allegations came up that he had close connection with Swapna Suresh.

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