Fire broke out in the office of the Assistant Director Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution at Paloura in the wee hours of Sunday. Cash to the tune of 3 lakh rupees and record has been gutted.
Enquiry into the incident has been ordered and investigation will take its own time. This is the job of the police and we cannot and would not make any predictions. However, there are a couple of observations. CAPD is an important department and directly involved in public dealing. It has enormous cash dealing which is a matter of daily routine with it. No Government office including the banks normally retains cash overnight except a small amount under emergency needs. Even whatever is authorised to be retained has to be put in approved lockers which have to be fireproof. Even some crucial documents too have to be consigned to lockers for safety over night. This practice has not been observed. Why did not the authorities take any step towards securing the office against incidental fire.
It is the duty of the head of the office to ensure that periodical checks of electric installations are carried out of the entire office rooms and annexes if any. This is to ensure that there is no danger of short circuit. Moreover, it is the duty of the head of the office to assign the job of supervising the office rooms before the offices close after a working day.
Having said all this, evidently the police will also probe whether it has been a case of sabotage. In the past, reports of sabotage have come in after the police made investigation into some fires.
In cases of fire, rarely responsibility is fixed. Though we do not recommend that punitive measures should be taken against employees at random as that would be violation of law, but we do suggest that a mechanism of accountability and responsibility has to be provided in Government offices, whether it a staff member or the security member is immaterial. Last year fire incident had taken place in the Secretariat Annexe in Srinagar when the Durbar had moved there. We had at that time also suggested that a mechanism of responsibility needs to be put in place otherwise it becomes loot for all. We do not know what was revealed after the investigation of Secretariat Annexe fire last year. Why is not there transparency in such matters and why should not the civil society have the right to know why these devastating incidents are recurrently happening and during crucial period of our current history. The Government needs to satisfy the questioning public. In an office that conducts huge transactions in cash and kind, there has to be a thorough and well maintained record with back up. Investigating agencies will be required to assure the public that this is not a case of sabotage by internal or external actors.