A minor fire that gutted files on a few racks at the General Administration (Political) Department in the state secretariat on Tuesday evening triggering a political row, with the Opposition Congress and BJP alleging that the incident was a deliberate bid to destroy evidence in the gold smuggling case.
While the state government said that ADGP Manoj Abraham will probe the incident, state minister E P Jayarajan alleged that the fire was the handiwork of the Opposition.
The fire broke out on the second floor in a section of the secretariat housing the state protocol office, which has been under the scanner of the NIA and other central agencies probing the smuggling of gold through diplomatic cargo.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala met Governor Arif Mohammed Khan and sought his intervention. “The files were deliberately burned realising that the ongoing probe of the NIA and ED would expose shady dealings. One has to suspect the role of the CM’s former principal secretary M Sivasankar behind this fire,” he said.
Soon after the fire, which was controlled immediately, the secretariat premises witnessed dramatic scenes. Chief Secretary Vishwas Mehta asked all mediapersons to keep away from the compound. Police did not initially allow local legislator V S Sivakumar to go inside the complex, which led to protest. BJP state president K Surendran, who tried to enter the secretariat, was arrested and removed, and protesting workers of the Congress and BJP were dispersed by the police.
Senior CPI(M) leader and Industries Minister E P Jayarajan said the fire would be the handiwork of the Opposition. “Both Congress and BJP have planned to unleash violence at the state secretariat. That the leaders have come to the secretariat with a mob shows that they had prior knowledge about the fire,” he said.
The fire broke out in the area where the General Administration (Political) Department functions, and the protocol section — which deals with consulates of foreign countries, visits of VVIPS and foreign dignitaries — functions under this department. It is the protocol office that issues duty exemption certificates to the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram for consignments brought from the UAE to Kerala. Central investigating agencies had sought details from the protocol office about Higher Education Minister K T Jaleel’s direct dealings with the UAE Consulate and import of religious texts from the UAE to Kerala while in the office of minister.
What added weight to the allegations was that the government had told the NIA that it was unable to hand over CCTV footage of the secretariat as the system had become dysfunctional due to lightning in May. The NIA had sought the footage as part of its probe into the gold smuggling case.
State Protocol Officer and Government Joint Secretary B Sunil Kumar said no files related to transactions with the UAE consulate had been lost in the fire. “The minor fire broke out in a section that deals with bookings of guest houses under the state tourism department. Booking details and disposals pertaining to the period before lockdown along with copies of gazette notifications have been lost in the fire. They are not of any sensitive nature and the guest house booking data is available online,” he said.
He added that all documents related to the gold smuggling case have been handed over to the NIA and other central agencies.