ON SATURDAY afternoon, when 55-year-old cobbler Popat Bansode was busy at work, little did his loyal customers know that it would be the last time that they would be spotting him polishing the shoes on the footpath in Chinchwad.
Bansode was charred to death in a fire triggered by a blast in an electric transformer behind his workstation. Even as he cried out for help, onlookers watched him burn — some even took videos of the accident and posted it on YouTube — but nobody offered help, say the angry family members of the victim.
“Even though my partially disabled father shouted for help, nobody helped my father. There was a major traffic jam that compounded the problem. However, people were insensitive and just wanted to merely see my father burning as if it was some drama in progress. They even took videos of the incident but nobody was humane enough to help douse the flames,” says Somnath Bansode, son of Popat Bansode.
The video of the incident has now gone viral. Akash Dhotre, a close friend of Somnath, holds up his cellphone and says, “Look at this video, it clearly shows how insensitive people have become…they can record the incident on cellphones, but will do nothing to help a dying man. If somebody had got a bucket of water, the flames could have been doused.”
However, the shopkeepers who had witnessed the incident say the fire was so massive that they could not have been able to help. The fire brigade was called in and it took the officials nearly half an hour to douse the flames.
The transformer blast — second in a month in Pimpri-Chinchwad — happened around 5.30 pm on Saturday when Bansode was polishing the shoes of a customer. “My husband was so immersed in his work that he did not realise his clothes had caught fire. And when he realised, he received no help from anybody,” says Nirmala Bansode, who also works in the same area. By the time she landed at the spot, Bansode’s wife recalls, her husband’s body was totally charred. “There was nothing left of him…no face, no hands,” she says.
The MSEDCL offered Rs 20,000 as immediate relief to the victim’s family, but the latter refused. “Is this the worth of a man’s life,” asks Somnath, adding, “My father had been earning Rs 400 per day by putting in 12 hours every day. I have never seen him sitting at home idle.”
His wife tearfully recalls Bansode’s last words spoken to her. “Around 7.30 am, he asked me to serve him breakfast, after which he rushed to work. We didn’t even speak,” says Nirmala.
The MSEDCL has instituted an inquiry into the incident, and an electrical inspector will investigate the matter and action will be taken in the matter, according to its spokesperson.
MSEDCL refused to comment on whether it was an act of negligence on the part of its officials. According to Ashok Morwal, a retired MSEDCL official, “In such cases, even if proper maintenance had been carried out, the chances of a sudden transformer blast cannot be ruled out. It can be due to overheating or heavy load.”
Meanwhile, Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Commissioner Dinesh Waghmare was quick to say that MSEDCL should ensure that it installs proper upgraded transformers to avoid such incidents. Waghmare pointed out that PCMC has been keeping a check on illegal hawkers.
This was the second incident of a transformer blast in Pimpri-Chinchwad. Last month, a seven-year-old girl in Phugewadi area was injured in a transformer blast. “MSEDCL has still not learnt its lessons. It has to impose restrictions for conducting businesses in areas near transformers,” says activist Sagar Charan.