A day after a five-storey building of a factory collapsed after a massive fire, Ludhiana Municipal Corporation blamed the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB), saying the disaster happened not because of the faulty construction, but due to hazardous chemicals stored inside the factory. But locals claimed the factory owner kept on adding floor after floor, and also hazardous chemicals and drums of diesel were stored inside in huge quantities. They said the MC never carried out any inspection of the site or took any action.
However, the MC is now claiming the building was on “approved industrial layout” but there was no record of when and how more floors were added. “The building is not illegal. It is in the approved industrial layout plan and built up is existing since 1974. But there is no record with us of when new floors were added. However, the tragedy escalated because of the hazardous materials stored inside. It is not our responsibility, but that of the PPCB. Why did they issue the No Objection Certificate (NOC) without inspecting what was being stored in a factory located near residential area,” said Surinder Singh Bindra, Assistant Town Planner, Ludhiana.
MC officials say drums filled with diesel and other chemicals have been recovered from inside, which indicates the PPCB was at fault. “It is for PPCB to see that if hazardous and inflammable chemicals are being stored and if norms are being followed or not. Building collapsed not because it was unsafe but because there was a huge explosion,” said a senior MC official.
On the other hand, PPCB officials said had MC stopped the ‘illegal’ construction of more floors, casualties would have been much less. “If there were less floors, many lives would have been saved,” said PPCB official.
Meanwhile, MC has no exact figure on number of illegal structures in city Ludhiana, but estimates are that there at least 500. “There are at least 500 illegal structures whose maps are not passed and at least 50 which have been declared unsafe but no action is taken either due to political pressure or officials negligence,” said a source.
Bhupinder Singh, Assistant Divisional Fire Officer, said “exact cause of fire is still unknown but it was most probably a vapour blast”.
PPCB chairman KS Pannu when contacted said, “Yes, it is the duty of PPCB to check and then issue NOCs in case of such polymer and chemical based units. A probe will be conducted and if any PPCB negligence is found, action will be taken.”