A fire broke out at the Kerala Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday which the Opposition called “a conspiracy to destroy evidence related to the gold-smuggling case.”
The leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) staged a sit-in protest before the secretariat against the government.
President of BJP’s Kerala unit K Surendran was arrested from the spot following the protest. “Democracy has been slaughtered,” he said before the arrest. The protesting leaders of his party have demanded a forensic examination of the fire-affected areas.
The fire was brought under control but many files are reported to have been destroyed which has led to several opposition leaders suspecting foul play.
P Hani, additional secretary of the general administration department in Kerala, said that a short circuit resulted in the fire that damaged the office of the protocol officer probing the gold smuggling case.
Surendran alleged it was “well-planned sabotage and an attempt to hide the involvement of ministers in the gold smuggling case”.
Amid allegations that a group of officers waited to begin efforts to douse the fire till the fire force personnel arrived, the INC and BJP have demanded a high-level probe into the matter.
Kerala Chief Secretary Viswas Mehta reached the spot and was assured of a detailed inquiry into the incident.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala has alleged that the fire was part of a conspiracy to tamper with evidence and has sought a detailed enquiry into the incident.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) probing the gold smuggling case had sought the CCTV visuals of the last year but the government is yet to submit it.
The fire at Kerala secretariat
A fire erupted in the protocol section of the General Administration Department in the Secretariat this evening, which led to the gutting of several office files.
The fire occurred at a time when the working of the protocol office is under the scanner after it emerged that officials here had made lapses while dealing with diplomatic baggage destined for the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram.
During the ongoing NIA and customs probe on gold smuggling, the sleuths had recorded the Assistant Protocol Officer’s statements and sought certain files from the department, many of which were provided to the probe agencies.
The fire was first noted in one of the computers by 5 pm. From there, it soon engulfed a portion of the office and gutted files that were stored in racks nearby. Due to COVID-related restrictions, only two employees were present in the office at that time. The fire was doused within 15 minutes with the help of the Fire and Rescue Department.