Explosions at illegal factory in Delhi amplified deadly fire | Latest News Delhi - Hindustan Times

Explosions at illegal factory in Delhi amplified deadly fire

Feb 17, 2024 03:38 AM IST

A fire at an illegal paint factory in Delhi has claimed 11 lives, including one woman. The blaze quickly spread to nearby houses and shops.

The massive fire that broke out in a building that housed an illegal paint manufacturing factory in Nehru Enclave near Alipur in outer Delhi on Thursday evening claimed 11 lives, including that of a woman, Delhi Police and Delhi Fire Services officers aware of the matter said on Friday.

NDRF team at the site of a paint godown that caught fire last night, resulting in the death of 11 people in Alipur, in New Delhi on Friday, February 16, 2024. (Raj K Raj/HT Photo)
NDRF team at the site of a paint godown that caught fire last night, resulting in the death of 11 people in Alipur, in New Delhi on Friday, February 16, 2024. (Raj K Raj/HT Photo)

The factory was run by Akhil Jain and the plot was owned by Raj Rani, a resident of Nehru Enclave, police said, adding that nobody who was present at the factory during the incident survived.

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The officers said that the blaze quickly intensified owing to the inflammable material stored inside and outside the factory — a single-storey building — before spreading to at least 15 houses and shops within a 50-feet radius. The initial blaze came in contact with around 50 drums of inflammable liquid in the paint factory, subsequently leading to a series of explosions that lasted around half an hour. The officers added that the building with a tin roof, which housed the factory for five years, had collapsed before rescue operations began.

The 11 bodies were charred beyond recognition, they said, adding that 10 of the bodies were found trapped under debris, mostly at the back side of the building, which suggested the fire began on the front and the people tried to escape through the rear of the compound.

Police said they identified eight of the victims, including the factory owner’s father Ashok Kumar Jain, 62, Ram Surat Singh, 44, Vishal Gaund, 19, Anil Thakur, 46, Pankaj Kumar, 29, and Shumbham Kumar, 19. At least six people were injured in the tragedy, including Jyoti Devi, 42, her daughter Divya Kumari, 20, and Mohit Solanki, 34, who were rescued from another building that caught fire.

Three remained identified, including possibly Rampravesh Kumar whose family turned up to police saying he was one of the workers and had not returned home since yesterday.

A case under section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code was registered at the Alipur police station.

According to the director of the Delhi Fire Services, Atul Garg, the department received the first call at 5.30pm, after which three fire tenders were rushed from the Narela fire station. When the firefighters gauged the gravity of the situation after reaching the spot, more fire tenders were rushed from Keshavpuram, Rohini, Jahangirpuri and Dwarka fire stations, Garg said.

Garg said eyewitnesses and residents told the firefighters that the blaze started around 4pm but they were not aware that the fire department had not been informed. “The locals panicked when they began hearing the series of blasts and some of them informed us. We rushed 19 more fire tenders but they reached late due to traffic congestion in the area,” said Garg, adding that the firefighting lasted for nearly 12 hours.

While Garg said the vehicles reached the spot within 10 minutes, residents alleged the rescue did not begin for nearly an hour after the first distress call was made.

“The single-storey building housed two small offices, a warehouse, and a hall used for manufacturing and packing paints, one of the residents said, adding that it only had a single gate for entry and exit, which was locked from inside at the time of the incident. The factory owner used to keep it locked during working hours,” said a resident, asking not to be named, adding that this might have hampered the evacuation.

Deputy commissioner of police (outer-north) Ravi Kumar Singh said that personnel from the Alipur police station also reached and saw that the fire had spread to eight houses and a nearby de-addiction centre where six people were trapped. The six were then rescued by constable Karam Veer, who hopped onto the roof of an adjacent building which was still safe.

Although police and fire departments were yet to ascertain the exact cause and sequence of events pending investigation, locals from the area narrowed the tragedy down to welding work being carried out in the factory for the last 2-3 days, which might have triggered the first spark.

Police said they would carry out DNA tests and match them to the family members to correctly identify the deceased. “The DNA tests will help us establish the exact identities of the dead people and hand over the bodies to the right families after autopsy,” said an officer, who asked not to be named.

A senior fire department officer, who was among the first to reach the spot, said: “We were told that multiple people were trapped inside. A total of 11 charred bodies were recovered, including one that was found in a chair.”

Garg added that the highly hazardous factory, built over around 300 yards area, was operating illegally within a congested residential neighbourhood and without valid licence from agencies concerned. The officer said that during preliminary investigation, no firefighting equipment was found in the building. The factory owner possessed a trade licencem the officer added, but was not authorised to run the paint manufacturing factory.

Eyewitnesses said it was around 4.40pm that they heard screams from the factory and saw the blaze had consumed the building . “I was taking a break from work when I heard people screaming. When I stepped out I saw there was a blast... The workers were trapped inside and the fire had spread to the de-addiction building. I saw people running for safety and followed them. We had called the fire service at 5pm but they came an hour late. The fire had spread to all the nearby buildings and shops,” said Abhishek Kumar, who works at Flipkart.

Police said that the factory owner, Akhil Jain, from Sonepat in Haryana, has now joined the investigation. He has told police that he was in Guwahati at the time of the incident.

Speaking to HT on Friday, the residents said the incident was a “tragedy waiting to happen”, alleging that the multiple complaints some of them wrote to the authorities regarding the illegal factory fell on deaf ears.

“The factory was running without securing a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the fire department. It did not have the licence to run the paint factory,” Garg said.

Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal ordered an investigation to probe how the factory was running in a residential area. “Strict action will be taken against culprits,” said Kejriwal. The CM also ordered an investigation into the allegations that the fire tenders arrived late.He also ordered a compensation of 10 lakh of the families of the deceased and 2 lakh to those seriously injured.

According to a senior police officer aware of the case, multiple irregularities were found in the operations of the factory. “As of now, we are collecting details from the agencies concerned that issued the trade licence. The officials will be asked to explain why the factory was running illegally in a residential neighbourhood for years and if they had taken any action against it in the past,” said the officer, asking not to be named.

The case is one of several recent instances of a unit operating in perilous conditions eventually leading to a fire. In 2018, at least 17 people were killed after a massive fire broke out in an illegal firecracker manufacturing and packaging factory in Bawana.

Investigation into the Bawana factory fire revealed that its owners were operating without a valid licence. In May 2022, a massive fire at a Mundka building claimed the lives of 27 people.

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    Karn Pratap Singh has been writing on crime, policing, and issues of safety in Delhi for almost a decade. He covers high-intensity spot news, including terror strikes, serial blasts and security threats in the national capital.

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