The fire broke out at the protocol wing of the Secretariat, which also deals with files related to the foreign consulates.

Kerala Opposition Protest in front of the SecretariatOpposition Protest in front of the Secretariat
news Politics Wednesday, August 26, 2020 - 19:31

On Wednesday, Kerala reported the highest single-day spike in COVID-19 cases, as 2,476 more people tested positive for coronavirus. Amid the growing health crisis, the state has also been witnessing heightened political activities in the past couple of days. Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government weathered the no-confidence motion moved by the Opposition on Monday after close to an 11 hour-long discussion.

On Tuesday, the Opposition headed by the Congress and the BJP hurriedly proceeded towards the Secretariat after a fire broke out at the protocol wing in the General Administration department of the building in the evening. 

Major ruckus after fire breaks out in Kerala Secretariat, opposition alleges sabotage

On Wednesday, both the Congress and the BJP, along with their youth wings, staged political protests in various districts, including Kochi, Kollam and Kozhikode, alleging that the fire was an attempt to sabotage the investigation in the controversial Kerala gold smuggling case. In some places, the protests turned violent. The Secretariat premise witnessed high political drama as the police had to forcefully remove political leaders and even resort water cannon and tear gas to disperse the protesters. 

‘Files saved as electronic documents’ 

Since the fire incident, the Left leaders and Secretariat officials have been maintaining that no crucial files have been destroyed as they had been converted as e-files. “It is not that the Opposition leaders and the MLAs are not aware that the files are in the e-office system. It’s cheap politics that challenge the mere common sense of the people,” Minister for Fisheries and CPI(M) leader J Mercykutty Amma wrote on Facebook.

State Protocol Officer B Sunil Kumar told TNM that some files have been destroyed but they were old documents, which were applications related to the bookings in government-run guest houses. “The administration regarding the guest houses went digital a year ago, some more applications were pending. We have some more applications in paper form. Those papers were gutted in the fire, and no other crucial files were destroyed. At present, all the files are in digital format,” he said.

The protocol wing deals with files related to the foreign consulates and that is why the fire incident was swiftly linked to the gold smuggling case by the Opposition. The LDF government has been taking the heat ever since it surfaced that the former Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, M Sivasankar, has been associated with Swapna Suresh, who is an accused in the gold smuggling case. The Chief Minister’s Office has also come under heavy fire since the controversy erupted in early July. 

“No files related to any consulate or diplomatic affairs have been gutted. These are saved as electronic documents. There is no base for these allegations, which are politically motivated,” Sunil added.

Though the state had begun converting files into digital format back in 2014, the transformation wasn't swift. At present, nearly 90% of the files have been kept in electronic format.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA), the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Customs Department had sought several files from the General Administration Department (GAD) to probe if the CMO had any role in the smuggling case.

Congress observes black day

The Congress observed Wednesday as Black Day, which was inaugurated by Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala. Mahila Congress, the women’s wing of the Congress, burnt the effigy of the Chief Minister. 

Both the Congress and the BJP stuck to the stand that the government ‘deliberately destroyed the files’. Chennithala alleged that the files were destroyed to hide the government’s involvement in certain crimes.

Chennithala had met Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan on Tuesday night, urging him to summon the Chief Minister in connection with the incident. Meanwhile, CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has alleged that the Congress has been trying to create tension with the fire incident to hide the shame after their no-confidence motion was defeated in the Assembly.

Investigation begins

Meanwhile, the investigating team led by Additional General of Police (ADGP) Manoj Abraham began evidence collection on Wednesday morning. According to reports, a short-circuit from the ceiling box of a fan, which has not been functional since the lockdown, could have caused the fire. The fan fell down when the fire broke out. Police had sealed the spot on Tuesday. There are also plans to reportedly beef up the security at the Secretariat.

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