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Tense excise dept looks to shift
August, 20th 2009

Heat generated by fire at a multi-storeyed building in the heart of the city on August 12 is yet to simmer down. Feeling the heat in the aftermath of the incident is Ajit Kumar, Commissioner for Central Excise. The department occupies three floors of office space in the fire-ravaged building and the incident has left the staff working there a trifle anxious and worried about their safety. This, they have communicated to Kumar.

"The general opinion of the staff in my office is that we should look for an alternative office in view of the incident," Kumar told TOI here on Wednesday. The aftermath of the incident figured prominently in a staff meeting held on Tuesday, Kumar said. "We reviewed the safety aspects, and the steps that we can take in the long and short term to address the situation. Shifting the office is one of the option that we are looking at," he said.

However, this may not happen in the near future. "We require around 15,000 sq. ft. of office space and this is not easily available," Kumar pointed. Department of customs is willing to give Central Excise its land at the old port area. This land, Kumar said is not adequate for his department to construct a building after complying with safety norms. There will be little land left for us to construct when we meet the norms, he said.

Is the department justified in cordoning off the office space with grills, a move about which the top brass of fire and emergency services expressed apprehensions? Kumar says, "We have office equipment worth crores and their safety has to be assured." Moreover, the grills put up by the department in no way restricts access to anyone wanting to use the staircase or the lift leading to the floors above or the terrace, he says.

The department has taken up the issue concerning fire safety with the owners as well as the association of persons/firms owing offices in the building. "These include setting up fire alarms, additional fire fighting equipment and a second stair case to facilitate easy evacuation," he said. "We will take in to consideration opinion given by fire and emergency services and City Corporation before taking a final decision to shift," he said.

Authorities to meet today
The district administration will conduct a post-mortem of shortcomings seen during the fire at the multi-storeyed building at the office of deputy commissioner here on Thursday. Chief fire officer H S Varadarajan said heads of all agencies concerned would be present at the meeting that the deputy commissioner V Ponnuraj will chair. The feedback will be helpful in preventing and tackling such situations better in the future, he said.

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