THE FAMILY members and villagers of six construction workers killed at Lakhanpur village near Khamanon Mandi Sunday after the wall of an under-construction rice sheller collapsed, blocked traffic on the Chandigarh-Ludhiana highway for around nine hours on Monday. The victims’ bodies were taken by their families only after the administration promised strict action against the owners of the rice sheller.
Victim Manjeet Singh was cremated at Lakhanpur village on Monday while the bodies of two other victims were sent to their native places in Dhuri where they will be cremated on Tuesday. Two other victims of Phirour village will also be cremated on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, contractor Avtar Singh alias Bhola, one of the three booked on Sunday under Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code, was arrested on Monday. Hundreds of commuters faced a tough time as vehicles were stuck in a massive jam. Police and administration officials tried to convince the protesters but the latter demanded that the government should pay a respectable amount of compensation to the family members of the victims.
The state government has announced a compensation of Rs 1 lakh to the next of kin of the victims and added that the injured would get free treatment. Khamanon Subdivisional Magistrate (SDM) Paramjeet Singh gave cheques of Rs 1 lakh each to the family members of the victims following which the protest ended around 5 pm. Ram Singh, a cousin of victim Manjeet, said they have demanded the immediate arrest of the rice sheller owners. He also demanded that the government pay a compensation of Rs 15 lakh to the victims’ next of kin. “The families are poor. Those killed were daily wagers. Manjeet’s wife is pregnant and she was admitted in a local hospital where Rs 1 lakh is a low compensation. Moreover, the breadwinner of the family is gone,” added Ram Singh.
Bachittar Singh, an ex-serviceman of Lakhanpur village, said the villagers first went to protest outside the SDM’s office in Khamanon around 9 am but after staying there for around two hours, they decided to block traffic on the Chandigarh-Ludhiana highway. Bachittar said the contractor and the rice sheller owner were responsible for the incident and they must be arrested immediately.
Hitender Singh (27), son of victim Raghbir Singh, said he has two elder sisters who are married and now he was the sole breadwinner of the family. “I have an ailing mother. Three days ago, my father, a mason, told the contractor that the wall was not safe. He did not even go to work on Friday and Saturday but the contractor started calling up and told him that they should strengthen the foundation of the wall. My father went to work on Sunday and the incident happened,” stated Hitender. He alleged that the contractor asked his father to use mud to make the foundation of the wall instead of cement, adding that the 30-foot-high wall could not stand on a foundation made of mud.
Bhajan Singh, a survivor, said he saw the wall collapse in just two minutes killing his fellow workers. “Sixteen of us were working there. I went outside to bring cement and suddenly the wall collapsed. I could have been one of the victims, too,” said Bhajan. Khamanon Mandi SHO Inspector Navdeep Singh said they have arrested the contractor and raids were on to nab the accused rice sheller owners, Rajesh Kumar Puri and Himanshu Bansal.
Khamanon SDM Paramjeet Singh told Chandigarh Newsline that those injured and hospitalised in Chandigarh were said to be out of danger.