A massive fire at the Income Tax (investigations) office at Scindia house, Ballard Estate has certainly, completely and totally destroyed important and sensitive files containing documents pertaining to scammers like Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi of Gitanjali Gems, besides several other sensitive cases.
A senior IT official told IndiaScoops.com that all the crucial files and documents pertaining to several important cases including those of Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi, Vijay Mallya and other big defaulters, both at the DRT and the IT office have been completely destroyed and it would take at least one year to recreate the files from backups and photo copies stored at different locations and offices of the IT department across the country. This means that the pending cases would be delayed by a year at the least, the official informed.
Scindia House is a multi-storey government building, located at Ballard estate near the Fort, in Mumbai. The building houses various government departments including the Income Tax (IT) department, Office of deputy director (investigations), the Enforcement Directorate (ED), Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRT), and Cyber forensic lab. Such a sensitive building should have been fire-proof, but it did not even have basic fire-fighting equipment.
RTI activist Anil Galgali, who has obtained a number of documents under the sunshine law, told reporters that the fire may have been deliberately caused by vested interests.The fire was started by someone inside. Someone who had access to the storeroom where all the papers were kept.
A security guard, Abijit Pol, whose swift response helped save many lives, said, “Someone complained of a foul smell. When I went to check its source, I realized that the smell was emanating from a cabin, which was locked as the concerned official is on leave. Another guard and I broke the door and saw the room engulfed in flames,”Pol told Mumbai Mirror.
According to Mumbai Mirror, another DRT employee said that the presence of plywood in their offices could have caused the blaze to spread faster. “All documents from searches conducted by the department are stashed in the building on the same floor where the fire started. Things obtained during seizures and evidence gathered are also stocked here,” he added.
While the IT dept has claimed it could have backups of the documents at different locations, officials, on conditions of anonymity, said, “The department may not have a backup of most of the documents, and if destroyed, it might be difficult to recover them.” reports Mumbai Mirror.
The BCAF or Bharat Citizens Action Forum has asked the Central Government why there were no proper fire safety measures in a highly sensitive place. Such a place must be fire proof?
According a Tribune India report, files on absconding jeweller Nirav Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi apart from several others wanted for economic offences have been destroyed in a major fire at the premises of the Income Tax department on Friday, according to sources here.
The fire that broke out at the heritage Scindia House building in South Mumbai’s Ballard Estate area around 5 pm on Friday evening raged on till early Saturday. Fire Brigade officials said it was a Level 4 fire, which indicated a high-level of seriousness.
The fire covered around 12000 sq feet on the third, fourth and fifth floors of the five-storied building. Six people were rescued from the building.
“Many cupboards had fallen on the floors, and we opened them, we found that the papers and files inside were ablaze. It was time-consuming time to extinguish the fire. Each floor of the building is around 4000 sqft,” said a fire officer.
The fire brigade department said that dousing operation was challenging as the massive amount of files, paper and wooden work inside the premises became fodder to the fire. No casualties were reported, says Indiatimes.
The cause of the fire hasn’t been declared by the fire brigade, but activists smell sabotage as the main cause as the offices charred contained important files pertaining to the investigation into the Nirav Modi, Vijay Mallya, and Mehul Choksi cases. Police said the investigations are on.
“As the building housed the investigation cell of the Income Tax department, it had files and documents pertaining to cases that were being probed in Mumbai and Maharashtra,” said a senior Income Tax official. “They have all been burned. We are not authorized to divulge information about the documents and the cases we are probing. It will take us time to take the stock of the damage.”
Asked whether the department followed a standard operating procedure in such cases when a huge pile of sensitive evidence faced the risk of being destroyed, AA Shankar, Director General of Income Tax (Investigations), said, “There is one procedure, but I will talk about it later.”
“We are taking statements and investigating the cause of the fire,” said senior police inspector of MRA Marg police station Sukhlal Varpe, adding, “People say they saw a short circuit. We cannot comment on the intention of sabotage.”
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has asked the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) which is the planning authority of Scindia House to carry structural audit before allowing the department to start working there again.
Surabhi Sharma, administrative officer of Scindia House, refused to comment as to where its offices be shifted to in the interim.