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Batala blast: Factory was illegal, says police

September 05, 2019 14:48 IST

The Punjab police on Thursday said the cracker factory in which the blast took place killing 23 people and injuring 27 was "illegal" even as rescue operations continued at the explosion site.

IMAGE: NDRF personnel carry out rescue works at the site of blast in the fireworks factory at Batala. Photograph: PTI Photo

Teams of National Disaster Response Force were trying to find out any person still trapped under the debris, officials said.

Batala Senior Superintendent of Police Opinderjit Singh told media, "The factory was working illegally. I didn't came to know about it earlier, otherwise it would have been closed".

 

"Now we are checking the licences of all the factories in the Batala city," he added.

Meanwhile, tempers ran high at a civil hospital where some family members of victims sought action against higher officials for failing to ensure closure of the firecracker factory despite repeated requests.

They also raised slogans against the district administration while seeking registration of murder case against top officials for allowing the factory to operate illegally from the thickly populated Guru Ram Das colony on the Jalandhar road.

"What inquiry will the government do now... a case of murder should be registered against top officials for allowing the factory to run illegally," one of the protester said.

IMAGE: At least 23 people have died and 27 others injured in the mishap that took place Wednesday. Photograph: PTI Photo

Twenty-three people were killed in a blast at the firecracker factory located in a residential area on Jalandhar road in Batala of Gurdaspur district on Wednesday around 4 pm.

The explosion had also damaged buildings nearby, shattering windowpanes and even bringing down the roofs of a couple of them. Several four-wheelers were also damaged because of the impact. The explosion was heard kilometres away, local residents said.

Several factory workers, some family members of the factory owner and a few passersby were killed in the explosion, officials said. Seven critically injured were referred to Amritsar medical college.

After the post mortem, the bodies will be handed over to the families of victims, they said.

A forensic team from Chandigarh will soon reach the site to take samples, officials said.

Significantly, in 2017, a blast had taken place in the same factory killing one worker and injuring three others, locals said, claiming several complaints were submitted to the district administration in the past for the closure of the factory, but to no avail.

Punjab government has already ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident.

IMAGE: Punjab government has already ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident. Photograph: PTI Photo

Rural Development and Panchayat Minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa on Wednesday night met the injured in local hospital.

An ex gratia of Rs 2 lakh for the kin of the each deceased and Rs 50,000 for the each of the seven severely injured had already been announced.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Wednesday had directed both the civil and police administration to extend all possible help to the victims' families in this hour of grief.

He had also directed the Deputy Commissioner to provide the best possible treatment to the injured free of cost besides asking the SSP to supervise the evacuation operations being carried out by the NDRF team.

The Gurdaspur district administration is under scanner for negligence giving the free run to cracker factory owner operating in busiest market in Ram Das colony near Hansali Bridge in Batala.

There were four multi-storey cracker shops after the family business of late Satnam Singh split in his four sons, including Jaspal Singh, Paramjit Singh, Harbhajan Singh and Ravil Singh, in the market.

IMAGE: Relatives of the victims killed in the blast at the fireworks factory, mourn during their funeral ceremony at Batala, in Gurdaspur. Photograph: PTI Photo

All the factory-cum shops except Jaspal Singh's were operating illegally as no licenses were issued. Being an eldest of his family, Jaspal got his father's permit which was not renewed by the administration, police said.

Baljit Singh, key witness in blast case and close aide of cracker factory, said that the family of Satnam Singh have lived there in house, built backside the shop and stock of raw material were often hidden in house to make police away from any action.

He said that the owners have stocked the bulk quantity of material before festivals like Dusherra, Gurpurab and Diwali as the supply of crackers delivered not only in Punjab but in Himachal Pradesh too.

Deputy Commissioner Gurdaspur Vipul Ujwal said that as many as 19 dead bodies have identified, out of which five belonged to same family of cracker owner.

Raghubir Singh Sandhu, president, Bar association Batala, who is residing in Guru Ram Das colony where factory exists said that "it is rule of anarchy, my complaints were of no avail."

"I along with other residents of locality requested the administration to shift this fire cracker factory outside the city after 2017 incident but all in vein".

After the January 2017 blast, locality members and owners of the factory had came to an agreement to shift the factory outside the Batala and had only offices in the market for general dealing but after few months, the situation was same. 

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