At least five people were killed after a four-storey building housing a blanket manufacturing factory collapsed in Jalandhar at around 11.30 pm on Sunday night.
No firm estimates were available on how many people were inside,but late on Monday evening,rescue workers and survivors were saying that up to 100 people,mostly labourers,could still be trapped in the debris.
Twenty-four hours after the incident,hopes of finding many survivors were fading fast. Fifty-seven people mostly with head injuries and fractured limbs were pulled out in daylong operations as rescuers and residents struggled with huge blocks of cement,bricks and iron rods.
Jalandhar industrialist Shital Vij,the owner of Shital Fibres whose workers were in the building,was arrested late on Monday evening. He was booked under IPC Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder),Police Commissioner Gaurav Yadav said. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is likely to visit Jalandhar tomorrow.
Eyewitnesses said the building,located in the heart of the city,came down with a loud thud in a cloud of dust at around 11.30 pm on Sunday. National Disaster Response Force teams began rescue operations early on Monday,along with units of the Army,ITBP and Punjab Police.
Deputy Commissioner Priyank Bharti said,We do not know the reason for the collapse,but I have ordered an inquiry. At present our efforts are to bring out the labourers trapped inside and save as many lives as we can.
Bharti refused to speculate on the number of people trapped in the debris. So far we know nothing for sure. Some say there were around 300 labourers inside the factory. But the owners say there were only about 60 or 70 people. The survivors too have not given us a consistent figure.
Shital Fibres is among the largest blanket manufacturers in the region. Vij is a prominent industrialist; the Devi Talab Charitable Hospital to which many of the injured were taken,is also run by him.
The building that collapsed stood over an area of nearly 200 sq yards,and was among the eight factories that Vij owns on both sides of the road. Construction was ongoing on a plot adjacent to the building that collapsed.
Most of the workers in the factory are migrants between the ages of 16 and 30. Dinesh Kumar,state coordinator of Bachpan Bachao Andolan,said,We fear that 14-16 children might have been inside when the factory collapsed. We have had reports of child labour being employed there.
The power went off and the building started to fall. We were lucky to be able to run out before it all came down, said Uttamesh,a migrant labourer who escaped.
Ram Vilas,another labourer,said the building was weak. Sometimes when we placed boxes of blankets on the floor,the entire building would shake, he said.
The state government has announced an ex gratia of Rs 2 lakh for each of the dead,and ordered a statewide safety audit of all commercial and industrial buildings.