Monday, April 15, 2024

Inferno devours a piece of history


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The inferno that gutted the building that houses the Shillong Bar Association is like a part of a well-orchestrated drama. The fire broke out when the caretaker was away from the building. All wooden structures belonging to the government seem to follow a routine format. They are razed to the ground and another concrete building replaces the old wooden structures. The 125 year old State Assembly building was similarly razed to the ground in January 2001. The new Assembly building is yet to be completed 23 years down the line. No one knows when an alternative Bar Association building will come up if at all a new building is constructed for the purpose. It is the nature of things in Meghalaya that all constructions stretch way beyond the timeline and involve time and cost overruns. There is a contractor-government nexus in such things because after all it is public money that is spent and the spending of public money is never held to account except by the Comptroller and Auditor General which all governments care a hoot about.
The Shillong Bar Association is a piece of Meghalaya’s history dating back to the British era of 1913. However it is not celebrated perhaps because it’s an old building and the practice here is to bring down the old and make way for the new. There is no respect for heritage buildings and no attempt to ensure that the electrical connections are in ship shape. A little care and concern in that area would have prevented short circuits that could lead to infernos as was seen on Saturday night when the fires consumed any inch of the Shillong Bar Association. It is critical that Government entrusts the central agencies to look into the cause of the fire and to rule out arson. That the caretaker of the place was absent when the fire engulfed the building, raises many uncomfortable questions such as where the fire started from and how.
The Shillong Bar Association is a place where lawyers that do not have an office in the vicinity of the courts, store their important files in lockers. Think of the reconstruction of cases that has to be done if the same have not been stored in computers. Some lawyers say that what’s lost forever are the records of the Bar Council and the Bar Association. This would mean the loss of invaluable records. Fire-proofing a heritage building is not an easy task but regular fire-safety surveys are imperative. Very often these old buildings have outdated safety features and most don’t even have fire extinguishers but even if they do have them, they don’t work because of poor maintenance. It is not known as to who or which department conducts regular fire safety surveys in Meghalaya but this is a much-needed protocol along with the disaster management drills. For now the members of the Shillong Bar Association need to press for proper investigation into the cause of the fire.


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