What does the national flag mean to you? Ponder that as you read this. As the fire raged on at the Mantralaya on Thursday, five Class IV workers refused to be rescued till the time they had lowered the Tricolour that is a constant feature atop the Maharashtra state secretariat complex.
As per procedure, every day an employee from the state Public Works Department (PWD) hoists the flag at around 6 am and another lowers it at 7.15 pm. This is followed all days of the year.
The flag-protection department, which has five men on its team - Suresh Baria, Deepak Adsul, Vishal Rane, Ganesh Gunj, Premji Roj - has its office right below the flag pole, in a chamber on the Mantralaya terrace.
On Thursday after 2.40 pm, when the fire broke out on the fourth floor of the seven-storeyed structure, staffers rushed to the flag protection office asking its officials to leave the building as the fire was spreading and all those within it were endangered.
However, the men refused to move unless they got orders from their seniors saying that they could lower the flag the size of which is 14 X 21 ft.
As the fire engulfed the building, these men stood by the flag pole ready to protect it from the flames, unhindered by the thought of the dangers their own lives faced. As the fire department began its rescue operations these officials were asked to leave their post, but they didn’t budge.
Baria, who has been serving at this post for over 10 years, said, “It’s our duty to be with the flag and protect it. Until it has been lowered we can’t come down like other people. When the fire broke out we went to the terrace from our chamber and waited there for orders from seniors. It’s the national flag and we can’t break protocol [i.e. lower the flag before its usual time] until we get a directive from our seniors. There is a proper schedule for flag hoisting and lowering, and it can’t be compromised.”
Senior officials from PWD have to give orders to lower the flag in emergency situations. The directive finally came at 4.05 pm, over an hour after the fire broke out. Fortunately the terrace remained the one area where the fire had not spread.
“We consider ourselves successful considering that we lowered the flag and folded it as per norms. We have kept it in a special room assigned for it,” added Ganesh Munj, who has been doing this job for the last 16 years. The flag is safe from the fire in this room.