Seven people were arrested on Thursday in connection with the massive fire at a cracker manufacturing unit near Sivakasi that claimed 39 lives. The police are on the lookout for the owner of the factory which allegedly violated several safety norms.
Four persons who had taken the Omshakthi fireworks factory complex, where the fire broke out, on lease, its foreman and two others entrusted with managing the unit had been arrested, Superintendent of Police Najmal Hoda told reporters.
Ten teams had been formed to nab the factory owner Murugesan, who fled the spot after the devastating fire on Wednesday.
"It is absolutely illegal, what he has done (giving the factory on lease), is absolutely wrong," the SP said, adding that cases had been registered against the lease holders and owner under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and Explosives Act.
According to the SP, the factory had committed several violations such as safety norms, overcrowding, overstocking and wrong mixing of chemicals.
Initial examination by forensic experts revealed that mixing of chemical had been done in "unscientific proportions". Besides, rubber sheets had not been provided at the sheds where the crackers were manufactured.
The area around the factory, spread over five acres, had been cordoned off as police feared that more unexploded crackers could burst due to extreme heat conditions.
Fire service personnel were constantly dousing the area, so that earth-movers could be used to clear the debris. Rangaswamy, an official of the Controller of Explosives, said the licences of the factory, valid up to 2014, were suspended three months ago due to 40 different types of violations. However, revenue officials said the communication on suspension of the licences had not been conveyed to them.
He said two licences which were issued to the factory, one by the Controller of Explosives of the central government and another for sulphur powder by the state authority, were valid till 2014.
The violations, including employing more than 300 workers against the norm of 200 employees, had been noticed before the suspension of the licences, he said.
The factory had attempted to manufacture more than their capacity to meet the demand for crackers for Diwali and New Year, besides employing unskilled workers and putting up 45 sheds instead of the permitted 35.
An official in the rank of joint director of forensic department also visited the site and collected the samples of the chemicals and crackers to analyse the causes for the fire. He will submit a report to the government shortly.
Director General of Fire and Rescue Bholanath visited the factory complex.
Those who suffered more than 50 per cent burns have been shifted to a Madurai hospital.
Senior Communist Party of India - Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury, who visited the site, said a high-level inquiry should be ordered into the incident and adequate compensation given to the victims.