Citizens' Issues
Public Interest Exclusive
The fire at Mantralaya: Lessons to be learnt

The fire at Mantralaya in Mumbai tells us a lot. While much will be talked of whys and hows, priority should be given to reconstruct lost information


I was busy writing something on the notepad on 21 June 2012 when I heard the siren of the fire engine on Babulnath Road sometime after my late lunch that afternoon and wondered where in my neighborhood the fire was. From my verandah on the ground floor with a canopy of trees, the sky is hardly visible. Whenever the fire brigade comes to our area it is generally to rescue a bird entangled in a kite string or an old branch of a tree that is precariously dangling. My curiosity arose further when I heard not one but two or three additional fire engines, couple on Pandita Ramabai Road near Wilson College and one on Babulnath Road soon thereafter with a sound of an ambulance and police sirens put in. I feared the worst. Was Mumbai experiencing another serial blasts!
The security men of our building apparently did not have even a tenth of my curiosity and only on my questioning, did one of them venture to go out onto the Babulnath Road to see what all the siren sounds were for. Meanwhile, as I normally do, took a break by logging in to my Facebook account and saw a posting by my TV journalist friend showing “first pictures of the fire at Mantralaya”. The black smoke of course hid Mantralaya. To confirm this I switched the TV on, given that I had heard more than three vehicles with sirens soundings. There was enough being shown… Mantralaya, the seat of power of the Government of Maharashtra was on fire… Mantralaya that proudly housed the control room of state’s Disaster Management Cell was burning.
I have been to Mantralaya on several occasions. I have been to the conference halls of home department as well as of the chief minister’s. I have been to secretary in charge of the Disaster Management Cell and rehabilitation (after the Killari earthquake), I have been to department of environment, I have been to secretary special projects (Mumbai), etc. Getting into the Mantralaya was not difficult as it was at the invitation of the secretaries concerned but procedures were elaborate. There were two entry points for us visitors and I wondered how during emergencies would people evacuate the building quickly at these bottlenecks? However my fears got set aside when I found that although to a visitor Mantralaya appeared complicated—essentially while looking for a particular department—overall it is a simple concept of corridors and staircases. Other than the two, I found that other staircases were actually for exiting people and entry to ministers and IAS officers. The main staircase was as good as in the open—big landings and windows and lifts.

Thus from my sense of safe design perspective, the path of escape during a fire was adequate. But what was unknown to me or not realized by me was that most of the walls separating different departments were in fact wooden partitions and not the half-brick thick wall. Any office contains lots of papers, and if they are stacked in files they get compressed and take a lot to get on fire on their own. Even wooden partitions do not catch fire just like that. In my limited but reasonably correct experience and knowledge, there has to be (i) heat source from which heat was not getting dissipated quickly and temperature was rising; or (ii) inflammable items were present in good quantity together to catch fire due to un-dissipated heat in the close proximity. I could guess this to be due to malfunctioning pantry equipment on the fourth floor where it is reported the fire seems to have commenced.

What is intriguing is that there are at least four office staff directly attached to the IAS secretary of any department and are expected to know how to be careful with heat sources and how to respond during emergencies. It is reported that fire escape drill was not carried out for a decade—this is something that I find it difficult to digest.

The fire seems to have spread from fourth floor south-west corner where there is a staircase too (assuming that the main entrance is facing south) towards south-east through central staircase and also towards north-west and then north-central. It also spread upwards to the fifth, sixth and seventh floors. Forensic study will reveal the correct picture but to me prima-facie inflammable material must be present all over the 4th ,5th ,6th and 7th floors and were not stored in safe manner.
The photograph shows that the main staircase lobby too was in flames and was perhaps the reason why escape from this staircase and the south-west staircase was not possible for persons on these floors. Also access to the staircase on south-east became impossible as the burning main staircase lobby came in the way. This is why people tried to get off the windows and pipes.

Questions will always be raised as to why fire on the fourth floor and response to extinguish it was so sloppy? Why was human response so slow? One must always remember that there is every possibility of the sprinkler system and smoke detection system failing at critical moments. Communication may fail at any time, but ability to survive is an animal instinct and human intelligence tries to minimize damages. While much will be talked of whys and hows, the action to take is to reconstruct lost information.

It is said that many of the papers have been scanned and electronically stored. In my opinion, the foremost task is to duplicate the electronically stored information and then after safeguarding the original electronic copy, begin taking hard copies.
The government of Maharashtra has already sent appeals to the citizens through Marathi and English newspapers, to help in rebuilding the lost data. I am sure it would obtain similar information from all municipal corporations, councils, zilla parishad and tehsil offices in the state.

A rapid assessment of structural damage by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) team comprising Prof Ravi Sinha and Prof Alok Goyal of IIT Bombay has stated that minimal damage has been caused to the original concrete columns and beams and that ground to third floor could be immediately made operational.

First things first—all occupiers of any building do not wait for fire authorities to come and tell you to keep egress paths clear of any obstruction. Also it is better to check when your instinct tells you that there could be some unexpected burning smell than waiting for someone else to find out. There is no need to panic but verify when in doubt. See that the staircase lobby has emergency lights working on rechargeable battery. Keep a bottle of water handy in case you have to leave your premises under emergency conditions.

(Sudhir Badami is a civil engineer and transportation analyst. He is on Government of Maharashtra’s Steering Committee on BRTS for Mumbai and Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority’s Technical Advisory Committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also member of Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority. He was member of Bombay High Court appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). While he has been an active campaigner against Noise for more than a decade, he is a strong believer in functioning democracy. He can be contacted on email at [email protected])


Personal Finance Exclusive
HDFC Life Smart Woman: Is innovative ULIP a smart choice?

The product covers risks of pregnancy complications, child with congenital disorders, cancer in female organs and death of spouse besides death of the insured covered by regular ULIPs. Ensure that you know the fine prints before buying the product


HDFC Life has launched “Smart Woman” targeted for working women of the age of 18 to 45 years, policy term options of 10 or 15 years and maximum sum assured of 40 times annualized premium, which has an annual limit of Rs1lakh. It is an innovative unit-linked insurance plan (ULIP) covering risks of pregnancy complications, child with congenital disorders, cancer of female organs and death of spouse. While death of the insured is covered by all the plans, the other features vary in the three benefit options offered by the insurer. It is important to understand the exact risks covered in each product features.

It is a first ULIP covering woman centric features. Smart Woman product fine print is that only specific pregnancy complications, which may be rare occurrences, are covered. E.g. it covers disseminated intravascular coagulation which needs treatment with frozen plasma and platelet concentrates, postpartum hemorrhage and molar pregnancy. The positive aspect is that the coverage for this feature is till the age of 40 years. There is higher risk of pregnancy complications with woman’s age.

On similar lines, the birth of a child with congenital disorders covers specific events of surgical repairs of specified child defects and diagnosis of Down’s syndrome. The advantage is that the cover for these defects is till age of 40 years at the time of the child’s delivery. There is higher risk of birth of a child with congenital disorders with woman’s age. A child with congenital disorders can cause financial burden on the family.

Being a ULIP, it comes with host of charges like Premium Allocation (PA), Policy Administration Charge (PAC), Fund Management Charge (FMC), Mortality and other risk benefit charges. Buyers need to be aware of all the charges.

PA – It is 2.5% till year 10. PA rate is 97.5% till year 10 and 102.5% from year 11 to 15. It means it gives back 2.5% from year 11 to 15.

PAC – 0.4% per month. Inflating from 6th year onwards at 5.5% p.a. It is subject to maximum of Rs500 or 0.5% of premium per month, whichever is lower. This charge is high, but is in line with other products in the market considering PA + PAC together.

FMC – 1.35% p.a. of the fund value.

Mortality and other risk benefit charge – There will be mortality charges for life cover of the insured as well as charges for other risk benefits like pregnancy complications, child with congenital disorders, cancer of female organs and death of spouse.  

The mortality charges for life cover of the insured are higher than in the standard LIC mortality table. E.g. HDFC Life Smart Woman mortality charge per Rs1,000 sum at risk is 1.7489 for insured of age 28, which is same as its other HDFC Life products currently in the market. LIC standard mortality charge for the same parameters is 1.166, which is much lower. Moreover, this HDFC Life product is for women and it should have lowered the mortality rates; many insurers offer a lower rate based on the woman’s longevity.

The other risk benefit charges (also called morbidity charge) vary depending on the chosen benefit options. While the mortality charges are guaranteed for the policy term, risk benefit charges are guaranteed only for period of three years from commencement date of the policy. This could change depending on the actual morbidity experience of the insurer.

There are woman-specific critical illness products in the market from Aegon Religare Life (rider) and Bajaj Allianz General. LIC’s Jeevan Bharathi–I, a traditional product, has a congenital disability benefit rider.



Madhusudan Thakkar

5 years ago

Raj,As regards to mortality charges Metlife's Smart Platinum has most competitive charges among all ULIP plans.For age 28 it is Rs 1.04454.Metlife plan also offers maximum sum assured up to 101 times of annualized premium.Furthermore Metlife plans also offers coverage up to 99 years of age with limited premium payment term option of 5 years also.Hence in category of ULIP presently Metlife's Smart Platinum has edge over others. As regards to morbidity charges why guaranteed only for period of three years from commencement date of the policy? This could change[read increase] depending on the actual morbidity experience of the HDFC Life.Recently Aviva has launched health plan where morbidity charges are guaranteed for 10 years.
In sum this plan of HDFC Life is full of sound & fury signifying nothing

Set up inter-departmental group to curb MLMs, says EAS Sarma

EAS Sarma, former power and finance secretary in his letter to the MCA secretary appealed to set up an inter-departmental group to collectively tackle MLM and pyramid schemes without any delay


EAS Sarma, former secretary to the Government of India (GoI) has appealed the ministry of corporate affairs (MCA) to set up an inter-departmental group to identify and curb pyramid or multi-level marketing (MLM) companies and schemes.

Mr Sarma, in a letter to Naved Masood, secretary of MCA, said the ministry of finance, Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), and the investigating agencies should collectively tackle this problem without any delay, as every day of procrastination will only result in thousands of hapless families cheated by the promoters of these schemes.

Earlier, in February, Mr Sarma wrote a letter to prime minister Manmohan Singh requesting to set up the inter-departmental group for prohibiting MLM and pyramid money circulation companies from operating in the country.

According to the former secretary of power and finance, the inter-departmental group should quickly identify the existing companies who are in this unethical business and proceed against them in a systematic manner. “The group should lay down the criteria for identifying such companies at an early stage so that they may not be allowed to get registered as companies under the Companies Act. If necessary, the existing laws should be suitably strengthened and the penalties sufficiently deterrent,” he added.

In several states, public-spirited officers have gathered fairly comprehensive data on such (MLM and pyramid) companies, investigated them thoroughly and brought them to book. Some of these states have enacted their own laws to pre-empt the activities of such companies. “MCA should take inputs from them and proceed effectively against the business of MLM and pyramid money circulation companies,” Mr Sarma said in the letter.

The MCA, in a recent study, said that such (MLM and pyramid) schemes are inherently money circulation schemes and sale of products is only a camouflage... (and) voilative of the Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning Act), 1978.

According to the study, the products by multi-level marketing companies are “over-priced” to pay huge commissions to people sitting at the top of pyramid and earn exorbitant profits for the company.

“Such schemes enrich the company and the top of the pyramid participants at the cost of 90% of the participants who are at the bottom two levels,” it said.

In a reply to Mr Sarma, the MCA admitted that another strategy adopted by these (MLM) companies is to use sale of ‘goods’ only as a camouflage whereas the real aim is to cheat the people lower down the chain. Unwary subscribers are lured to join such selling expeditions. They make deposits in the hope of getting huge returns. They are ultimately left high and dry,” the MCA admitted.

Even the study added that in the pyramid or multi-level marketing schemes ‘product’ “is only a way to disguise the real intention” and such schemes are primarily “a variant of the earlier money circulation schemes” without any products.

The main difference, it added, between direct sales ad pyramid sales is that in direct sales the person making the sales gets the maximum commission, while in pyramidal scheme the person at the top of the pyramid gets maximum commission.

“Such a compensation plan rewards enrolling more members down line rather than give incentives to sell directly to the consumers who are not interested in becoming members. The deceptive and fraudulent nature of such scheme is because very soon saturation is reached and more members cannot be enrolled,” it said.

Earlier, in April, corporate affairs minister Veerappa Moily had said he has suggested to the home ministry to set up an SFIO-type special body to probe frauds by the multi-level marketing companies and chit funds in a time-bound manner.


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