High drama was witnessed at the Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday after a minor fire broke out at the protocol department, with Opposition Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party alleging that important files relating to the gold smuggling case, among others, were destroyed, while the Kerala government suspected a 'conspiracy' by both parties.
The Congress demanded a National Investigation Agency probe into the matter while BJP state chief K Surendran courted arrest for forcefully entering the complex soon after the fire broke out.
Fire department sources told PTI that their personnel at nearby Chenkalchoola were informed about the incident at 4.45 pm and by the time they reached the spot, the room was filled with smoke.
"We first opened the windows and doors to let the smoke out. As per our initial assessment, the source of the fire was a switch on the wall, from where the blaze spread to the floor. Some files were partially burnt," a senior fire force official said.
Government sources, however, said no important files were destroyed.
Soon after the fire broke out, BJP state president K Surendran reached the secretariat along with other workers and demanded that they be allowed inside.
However, police refused to do so, removed them from the spot and later took the BJP leader into custody for forcefully entering the complex.
Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Ramesh Chennithala arrived at the spot on learning about the fire and squatted in front of the Cantonment gate of the secretariat, demanding entry into the complex.
Chennithala, who later went inside, told the media that 'three sections caught fire'.
"Many important files were destroyed. Many files related to the gold smuggling case have been destroyed, as also those related to VVIP designation. We have decided to observe a black day on Wednesday and demand an NIA probe into the matter," Chennithala said.
Youth Congress activists and Yuva Morcha workers organised protest marches to the secretariat, which turned violent with police using water cannons to disperse them.
The activists burnt tyres and an effigy of the chief minister in front of the secretariat.
The LoP and other party MLAs later met Governor Arif Mohamed Khan and raised their concerns over the matter.
Meanwhile, Minister E P Jayarajan, in a video message, alleged that the BJP and the Congress tried to create violence inside the secretariat complex.
"The security officials and police reached the spot and contained the fire. But BJP and Congress leaders came together and tried to create violence inside the secretariat. It seems like a conspiracy was hatched to create a violent atmosphere there.
"Their presence inside the secretariat and their action forces us to think whether they are involved in the incident. The government will conduct a comprehensive probe," Jayarajan said.
The Opposition Congress and the BJP alleged that many important files have been destroyed in the fire.
However, government sources dismissed the charge and told PTI that all departments in the secretariat have the e-filing system and no file would ever go missing.
P Honey, Additional secretary, Housekeeping Cell at the Secretariat, told reporters that 'none of the important files have been destroyed and theyare all safe'.
There were only two people in the office at the time of the incident as the remaining staff had gone on quarantine after one of the staff was confirmed with COVID-19.