Fire breaks out at Kerala Secretariat, Opposition terms it 'conspiracy to destroy evidence' in gold smuggling case
Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala demanded a 'comprehensive' probe into the cause of the fire, while Kerala BJP president K Surendran said it was a way to 'sabotage' proof
A fire broke out at the Kerala Secretariat in the state capital Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday evening, which resulted in the Opposition calling it a "conspiracy to destroy evidence in the gold smuggling case."
The fire was brought under control and no one was injured, reports said. "The minor fire was at the political section of the General Administration Department. No one has been injured," NDTV quoted a police official as saying.
Soon after the incident, the Congress and BJP alleged that it was a conspiracy to destroy evidence in the case, over which the parties have sought to corner the LDF government in the Assembly sessions this week.
The Congress demanded an NIA probe into the matter while BJP state chief K Surendran courted arrest for forcefully entering the complex soon after the fire broke out.
"Very important files regarding the gold smuggling case have been completely destroyed. No backup file is available. This is a suspicious case. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is responsible for this," Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly and Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala said was quoted as saying by News18.
He added that he will meet Governor Arif Mohammad Khan over regard to the incident on Wednesday.
"Files containing details about the gold smuggling case, including those sought by the NIA and other probe agencies in connection with Minister KT Jaleel were purposefully burnt. BJP leaders, including me, were arrested when we visited (the Secretariat) to bring out the truth," Surendran was quoted by ANI as saying.
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.
However, PTI quoted government sources as saying that no important files were destroyed.
Soon after the fire broke out, Surendran reached the Secretariat along with other workers and demanded that they be allowed inside. However, police refused to do so, removed them from the spot and later took the BJP leader into custody for forcefully entering the complex.
Chennithala arrived at the spot on learning about the fire and squatted in front of the 'Cantonment' gate of the Secretariat, demanding entry into the complex. Chennithala, who later went inside, told the media that "three sections caught fire".
"We have decided to observe a black day on Wednesday and demand an NIA probe into the matter," Chennithala added.
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 an effigy of 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, Minister EP 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 like a conspiracy was hatched to create a violent atmosphere there. Their presence inside the Secretariat and their action forces us to think whether they are involved in the incident. The government will conduct a comprehensive probe," Jayarajan said.
The Opposition parties 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 theyare 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.
With inputs from agencies
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