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Mantralaya fire toll mounts to five

Investigators were probing whether there was a sabotage angle behind the devastating fire at the Maharashtra secretariat as two more bodies were recovered on Friday raising the toll to five.

The bodies were recovered from the sixth floor of the seven-storey building after the blaze that raged on through the night was doused early this morning, more than 12 hours since it was first noticed.

The fire left behind a trail of destroyed files, damaged computers, charred furniture, blackened walls and broken glass panes.

Four teams have been constituted under Deputy Police Commissioner Ambadas Pote to probe the cause of the incident including sabotage.

Questions of a conspiracy have been raised since the offices housing the urban development department, in the eye of a controversy over Adarsh scam, were gutted. Seeking to allay apprehensions, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said vital documents related to the scam were with CBI and the Judicial Commission constituted by the government.

'We have photocopies with us. Hence, the speculation that Adarsh probe will be hampered due to the fire is ruled out,' Chavan, who holds the urban development portfolio, told reporters.
He said, 'Hard disks of damaged computers will be retrieved, for which assistance of NASCOM and IT experts, including foreign agencies, will be taken.'  The Chief Minister said 2.25 lakh files in 'Mantralaya' had been digitised and 3.18 crore papers scanned prior to the incident and were thus safe.

Chavan chaired a meeting of his cabinet at 'Vidhan Bhavan' where he reviewed the situation in the aftermath of the disaster as the crime branch, which is usually entrusted with the task of probing underworld-related crimes, registered a case and formally launched a probe.

Pawar lauds rescue operations during Mumbai fire

NCP chief and union minister Sharad Pawar Friday praised the city disaster management, rescue teams and fire brigade for their efficient handling of Thursday's Mantralaya fire and rescuing over 60 people trapped in the building.

Pawar, who rushed to Mumbai from New Delhi, inspected the fire-ravaged Mantralaya [state secretariat] premises from outside Friday afternoon.

He held a meeting with Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar to discuss the fallout of the tragedy that claimed five lives and left 16 injured.

'This is not the occasion to indulge in any mud-slinging or hurling allegations. This tragedy has shocked Maharashtra, and all political parties should work together to recover from it,' Pawar said while addressing media persons. He also said the state government should consider redeveloping the building as Maharashtra deserved a good administrative headquarters in the state capital. Pawar, a three-time former state chief minister, said he spoke to the rescue teams and fire brigade officials who informed that their prime concern was to rescue people trapped inside the building. 'They said that saving the structure was secondary, saving lives was their primary concern... I feel that they have done their job,' Pawar said.

When Pawar learnt of the incident in New Delhi, he immediately called up the National Disaster Management officials and sought their expert opinion on the tragedy.
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