Sivakasi firecracker unit flouted safety norms

Sivakasi firecracker unit flouted safety norms

Police arrest 12; Fire experts start probe

An expert team from the Nagpur-based Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) probing the Sivakasi fire has found several safety violations which caused the accident which claimed over 50 lives with 46 injured.

While the death toll was officially pegged at 38, based on the number of bodies recovered so far, the discrepancy in the casualty figures was a major concern on Thursday, with locals fearing a higher death toll.

Police have arrested 12 people including one Palpaandi, who had taken on lease Om Sakthi Fire Works Industries, whose licence had been suspended. The factory owner, Murugesan, is still at large.

“We will nab him soon,” said Najmal Hoda, Virdhunagar SP. The arrested persons have been charged under various sections of the IPC including 304 (culpable homicide not amount to murder), he told Deccan Herald.

The Joint Chief Controller of Explosives, heading PESO’s Southern Circle, has rushed to Sivakasi to investigate the cause of the fire.

Many irregularities leading to the fire have come to the fore. Sources said that the man (Palpaandi) who took it on lease from the factory owner is a contractor with no technical competence to run a fireworks unit.

The safety norms are very stringent and elaborate, like the number of workers and precise quantity of chemicals to be handled at any work-shed at different stages. Even cell-phones or pagers are not allowed anywhere near the sheds, the sources added. 

The sources said preminary inquiry showed that the unit had a larger quantity of chemicals than allowed and employed more people than permiitted in the licence. The sources said, “Our experts are on the field; it is hard to pin-point the exact trigger now as the explosion was so huge and the fire so intense.”

The fire was the worst in Virdhunagar district in two decades. In 1993, 36 people were killed in an explosion in another fireworks factory. CPMparty Politburo expressed deep grief at “the huge loss of life”. Talking to reporters, Yechury demanded a high level enquiry by both the Central and state governments.

In Chennai, Chief Minister J Jayalalitha directed the district collector to immediately do a comprehensive ‘safety audit’ of all the fireworks units in the Sivakasi belt. She ordered a magisterial enquiry’ into the tragedy.   

Jayalalitha also decided to allocate Rs.4.50 crore to upgrade the burns ward at the Sivakasi Government Hospital, under the Madurai Medical College. The hospital will have 30 additional beds with an ICU, plastic surgery unit and other advanced facilities.