11 killed, several injured in blaze at firecracker factory | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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11 killed, several injured in blaze at firecracker factory

By, Bhopal/ Harda
Feb 07, 2024 07:34 AM IST

Harda chief medical and health officer HP Singh said rescue teams had recovered 10 bodies by 4pm, five-and-a-half hours after the explosions first took place

At least 11 people were killed and 174 injured after a string of blasts tore through an illegal firecracker factory in Harda in Madhya Pradesh, even as National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) officials searched for people caught under the rubble of the flattened three-storey building. Such was the impact of the explosions, senior officials said, that many of the injured were commuters travelling in and around the vicinity of the explosion who were either thrown by the impact, or hurt by debris from the blasts.

Firefighters attempt to douse flames after a major fire incident in Harda town, Madhya Pradesh on Tuesday. (ANI Photo) (ANI)
Firefighters attempt to douse flames after a major fire incident in Harda town, Madhya Pradesh on Tuesday. (ANI Photo) (ANI)

Harda chief medical and health officer HP Singh said rescue teams had recovered 10 bodies by 4pm, five-and-a-half hours after the explosions first took place. “After that, one man succumbed to his injuries at Hamidia hospital. Twenty-five of the 174 injured have been referred to hospitals in Bhopal, Indore and Narmadapuram after the administration arranged for green corridors,” Singh said.

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Later in the evening, senior police officers said that the blaze that engulfed the area after the initial explosions had been controlled after fire services were pressed into service. However, they added, the situation was still volatile because there were still intermittent blasts from the firecrackers stored in the factory.

Irshad Wali, inspector general (IG) of Harda said, “There was a massive explosion that took place on Tuesday morning, and the entire town was engulfed in black smoke. Vehicles from the fire brigade were immediately sent to the spot, but the immediate cause of the accident is unknown thus far. We deployed fire tenders and ambulances from nearby districts like Betul, Khandwa and Narmadapuram.”

Rishi Garg, Harda district collector, said NDRF was looking for people trapped under the rubble. It was not clear how many people, if any, were trapped as the time of going to print.

Authorities were able to identify 10 of the 11 victims. They were however still working on confirming who among the victims were factory workers and who were locals.

“At least 60 nearby homes and over 100 vehicles were gutted in the fire that were in the narrow lane of Bairagarh, where the factory is located. Over three dozen commuters at Magardha Road were also thrown by the explosion and were injured after they were hit by stones and crackers. The administration has evacuated more than a hundred homes as a precautionary measure, and they have been sent to different shelters,” Garg said.

According to a district official, factory owner Rajesh Agrawal first set up a small unit in 2004. He later set up more factories on the same premises. Four factories exist on the premises — the one where Tuesday’s accident took place was illegal, while the other three have been issued valid licenses.

Divisional commissioner Pawan Sharma said, “There were four factories that were owned by three people of a family — 54-year-old Rajesh Agarwal, his uncle Pradeep Agrawal, and brother Somesh Agrawal. We were informed that the set-up began over two decades ago in 2004.”

Two other accidents have occurred on the premises in the past. One accident occurred in 2015 when one person was killed and four people were injured in a nearby house where locals were involved in the production of fireworks, an official who declined to be named said. The second accident took place in 2021 in a godown when three people were killed and six were injured.

Senior officials said that the illegal factory was sealed on Diwali in 2023 and its licence suspended by the administration after it was declared unfit due to overstocking explosives, but operations continued nonetheless under the other three valid licences, said KC Parte, sub divisional magistrate.

The factories had a large cache of explosives used to make various kinds of firecrackers. Around 300 people were employed across the four factories for carrying out all processes from production to packaging of the firecrackers.

One worker who was in the factory said Rajesh Agrawal was present when the explosions first began.

“We were working on the ground floor when the blast happened. We rushed outside and saw that Rajesh Agrawal and his son were present there,” said employee Ruksaar Khan, an employee said.

IG Wali said, “An FIR has been registered under Section 304A (punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against four people — Rajesh, Somesh and Pramod, as well their manager Rafique. Three of them [Rajesh, Somesh and Rafique] have been arrested late evening.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolences.

“Distressed by the loss of lives due to the mishap at a cracker factory in Harda, Madhya Pradesh. Condolences to all those who have lost their loved ones. May those injured recover at the earliest. The local administration is assisting all those affected. 2 lakh from PMNRF would be given to the next of kin of each deceased and injured will be given 50,000,” he said in a post on X.

Chief minister Mohan Yadav, who called an emergency meeting in the morning after the accident, and deputed minister Uday Pratap Singh, additional chief secretary Ajit Kesari and deputy general of police(home) Arvind Kumar to visit the area, also announced 4 lakh ex gratia for the next of kin of those deceased. In a meeting of all collectors and commissioners called in the evening, Yadav asked for stricter checks on illegal firecracker factories, and formed a six-member committee to submit a report on the explosion in three days. “The accused will not be spared. We have acted swiftly to save the lives of people during the rescue operation,” Yadav said.

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