Angry scenes unfolded outside the morgue of SVP Hospital in Ahmedabad on Thursday, where grieving relatives of 12 victims of Wednesday’s chemical factory blast and godown collapse in Pirana area, waited for the bodies of their dear ones, even as police lodged FIRs against the owners of the factory and the estate where the accident took place.
Women could be seen wailing as men arguing with police officers demanding action against the “negligent factory owners”. Senior police officers assured them that action will be taken against the factory owners if any negligence was found.
Among the bereaved was a 40-year-old man from Ganeshnagar near Pirana, who walks with a limp in his right leg after a paralysis attack. The man lost his 14-year-old son who was employed as a daily wager at Sahil Enterprises, the chemical factory, where the massive blast took place at 11.22 am on Wednesday.
The blast brought down the godown of the adjacent Kanika Texo Fab garments, leaving 12 dead and 10 injured.
The devastated father says his son was forced to drop out of school and join the chemical factory at a meagre wage of Rs 200 per day after lockdown.
“If I had any money, I would have never allowed my son to work at this tender age. For the past four years, I have been jobless due to the paralysis attack and after lockdown, my son started working to make ends meet. Around 8 pm on Wednesday, I was informed by one of my relatives that my son’s body was taken to SVP Hospital… I have been here since last night but the police have not allowed me to see the body,” he said, showing the Aadhaar card of his son that mentions the boy’s age as 14.
“Yesterday, when they declared the names of the deceased persons, they mentioned my son’s age as 20. I was told that the factory owner intentionally mentioned wrong age to avoid being penalised for child labour,” he said.
Similar is the case of a 44-year-old resident of Guptanagar lost his 17-year-old daughter who was working in the garment godown. His wife who was also employed at the godown has been admitted to LG Hospital where her condition is stated to be critical, while his 12-year-old son and a 19-year-old daughter who were working at the same place had a narrow escape.
“My other daughter did not go to work on Wednesday, while my son was miraculously saved from the accident site. My wife has suffered severe burns on her chest and legs. I am waiting to receive the body of my daughter, after which I have to go and see my wife,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Ahmedabad Police on Thursday lodged an FIR against Hetal Sutaria, owner of Sahil Enterprises, and Nanubhai Bharwad and Pradipbhai Bharwad, owners of the estate where the accident took place.
As per the FIR filed at Narol police station, all three accused have been booked under Indian Penal Code sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide), 284 (negligient conduct with respect to posionous substance) 285 (negligient conduct with respect to fire), 286 (negligient conduct with respect to explosive substance) 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance) 427 (mischief) 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life) 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life) and 114 (offence committed when abettor present).
“We are not able to understand the delay behind police action as the accident happened on Wednesday morning and even 24 hours later, FIR was not filed. We demand that the guilty factory owners be booked under section 302 for murder,” said Prakash Chavda, a rights activist.
The state government had on Wednesday announced an ex gratia of Rs 4 lakh each to the kin of the deceased and ordered for an inquiry report by setting up a two-member committee comprising Vipul Mittra, additional chief secretary of Labour and Employment department, and Sanjiv Kumar, chairman of Gujarat Pollution Control Board.
However, the relatives of the deceased are not happy with the state government action till now. “We demand a compensation of Rs 20 lakh each to the kin of the deceased and due action against offenders,” said Bhagyashree Parmar, a relative of 24-year-old Nitin Parmar who was killed in the accident.
The FIR stated that the accused Hetal Sutaria was running the chemical factory without required permission and did not have any skilled or qualified staff to deal with the highly inflammable and explosive chemical substances kept on the factory premises.
It added that Pradipbhai Bharwad had leased out the estate to Sahil Enterprises despite knowing that the factory had not followed any government regulations. The other accused Nanubhai Bharwad had leased out his estate to Kanika Texo Fab, despite knowing that a chemical factory was functioining next to it.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Milap Patel, assistant commissioner of police, K Division said, “An FIR was lodged after we received a formal complaint from the relatives of the deceased. All three accused have been rounded up for questioning but they have not been arrested yet. Investigation is going on.”
On Thursday, Vipul Mittra, additional chief secretary of Labour and Employment department wrote a letter to Ahmedabad Municipal Commissioner asking for a combined operation of survey of all warehouses within the municipality jurisdiction where there is a chance of storage of hazardous chemicals.
“Investigation by police and technical inquiry by other officials are underway… We need to identify other similar unauthorised warehouses where hazardous chemicals are stored without valid ‘no-objection certificates’. For this, multi-departmental teams should be immediately formed to survey all warehouses under municipal limits. Stringent action must be taken against defaulters,” read the letter by Mittra.
Mittra has also asked the Ahmedabad municipal commissioner to initiate the process of payment of compensation to the kin of deceased persons and stated that the inquiry report by the two-member committee will be tabled on November 13.
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