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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Pune blaze kills 17: Factory stored flammable chemicals without permits, say officials

Pune factory fire: Blaze may have started in packaging machine; proprietor arrested, two more booked on charge of culpable homicide.

Written by Sushant Kulkarni | Pune |
Updated: June 9, 2021 1:07:15 pm
The premises of the SVS Aqua Technologies that reported a major fire killing 17 persons. (Express Photo by Arul Horizon)

The chemical factory in Mulshi taluka, where a massive fire claimed the lives of 17 workers on Monday, used to store large quantities of various flammable chemicals including sanitisers without requisite permits, said sources in the inquiry committee probing the incident.

The fire was reported at the SVS Aqua Technologies, a company in Urawade, near Pirangut in Pune district’s Mulshi taluka, around 3.30 pm on Monday. Four persons were injured in the fire.

The probe also found that the chemicals, including sanitisers, were stored in the same space where the factory employees worked.

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On Tuesday evening, Pune Rural Police arrested the proprietor of the factory, Nikunj Shah, on charges of culpable homicide. Police have also booked his father Bipin Shah and brother Keyur Shah in the case, but they are yet to be arrested.

An official who is part of the probe said the fire is suspected to have started in a packaging machine. It spread further and intensified due to stocks of flammable chemicals, including alcohol-based sanitiser, he said.

Police and local administration had earlier said that 18 persons were presumed dead in the fire. On Tuesday, officials clarified that 17 bodies and one body part were recovered. All the bodies were charred beyond recognition. DNA samples are being collected from the bodies and the next of kin to ascertain identities of the bodies.

The premises of the SVS Aqua Technologies. (Express Photo by Arul Horizon)

District Collector Rajesh Deshmukh had on Monday instituted an inquiry committee headed by the sub-divisional magistrate, Maval, with officers from the fire, police and industrial safety departments, to determine the cause of the fire and if negligence led to the incident. The committee submitted its report to the district collector on Tuesday afternoon.

Superintendent of Pune Rural Police, Abhinav Deshmukh, said, “Based on the findings of the committee, the owner of the company, Nikunj Shah, has been booked for culpable homicide and he has been placed under arrest. Two others have not been arrested yet.”

An official, who is part of the inquiry committee, told The Indian Express, “The factory had a licence for production of chemicals used in water purification. Our primary findings suggest that they had also started repackaging of sanitisers. The probe revealed that at the time of the fire, there were more than 40,000 bottles of 500 millilitre sanitiser, which were bottled at the plant from larger containers brought from outside. The factory had no permit to carry out this procedure. Observations from Fire department experts suggest that the fire started due to sparking in a packaging machine and then it not just spread further, but also intensified due to the large stock of small sanitiser bottles and other chemicals.”

Relatives of the victims of the SVS company fire at Sassoon hospital for the DNA test to identify the bodies on Tuesday. (Express Photo by Arul Horizon)

Another official said the inquiry also found that inflammable items, including raw material required for producing water purification chemicals and sanitisers, were stored without clearance from the Department of Industrial Safety and Health. The intensified fire due to sanitiser storage and the black smoke of sodium chlorite may have hindered the passage of workers when the fire started, said the official.

The inquiry committee also found that between 2016 and 2020, the company functioned without a permit from the state Pollution Control Board. A new building on the premises of the company became functional without clearance from the Fire department.

Meanwhile, Minister of State for Labour in Government of Maharashtra, Bachchu Kadu, visited the factory on Tuesday afternoon. “Based on what the officials have told me, there was a clear violation of rules as factory management had started refilling and storing large quantities of sanitisers, for which they had no permit. It has also come to light that the construction of the factory building was not done as per the sanctioned plan. This criminal negligence on part of the owner has led to loss of precious lives,” said Kadu.

As per the information given by local administration, the 17 persons working inside the company who were missing and are now presumed dead have been identified as Archana Venkant Kawade (36), Sachin Ghodke (24), Sangita Maruti Polekar (43), Mangal Baban Margale (29), Surekha Manohar Tupe (45), Suman Sanjay Dhebe (38), Sunita Rahul Sathe (28), Mahadevi Sanjay Ambare (40), Manda Bhausaheb Kulat (49), Trishala Sambhaji Jadhav (32), Atul Lakshman Sathe (23), Seema Sachin Borade (34), Geeta Bharat Diwadkar (41), Sheetal Dattatrey Khopakar (43), Sarika Chandrakant Kudale (42), Dhanashree Rajaram Shelar (22) and Sangitla Ulhas Gonde (43).

The four injured persons have been identified as Adinath Sathe (23), Santosh Sathe (45), Praveen Kawankar (24) and Nisha Ramesh Gorgal.

Additional Superintendent with Pune Rural Police, Vivek Patil, said, “We have launched a probe following the report by the inquiry committee. We will be probing each and every aspect including adequacy of fire-fighting mechanism, structural aspects and safety aspects, whether they had all the requisite permits, and if a fire audit was done. We have also come to know about a small fire at the same premises two weeks ago. We will check whether the factory management took any corrective measures after that.”

Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, who is also Guardian Minister for Pune, has announced assistance of Rs 5 lakh for the families of those who died in the fire.

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