Harda blasts that killed 13 a ‘man-made’ tragedy: Enquiry panel | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Harda blasts that killed 13 a ‘man-made’ tragedy: Enquiry panel

By, Bhopal
Mar 23, 2024 05:51 AM IST

The 40 page report has found that the accident did not “happen out of the blue” and multiple warning signs were ignored.

The multiple explosions in a firecracker factory in Madhya Pradesh’s Harda that left 13 people dead and injured 174 others in February was a “man-made” tragedy and senior officials in the district administration ignored several red-flags, a three member state government enquiry committee into the tragedy has found. The probe report, which has now been sent to the state chief secretary and the Director General of Police and the general administration department for further action.

The explosions in a firecracker factory in MP’s Harda claimed 13 lives and left 174 others injured. (REUTERS)
The explosions in a firecracker factory in MP’s Harda claimed 13 lives and left 174 others injured. (REUTERS)

Immediately after the blast Madhya Pradesh chief minister Mohan Yadav had visited the spot and formed a three member probe committee headed by principal secretary home Sanjay Dubey. This committee has now completed the probe 35 days later. HT has seen the probe report.

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The 40 page report has found that the accident did not “happen out of the blue” and multiple warning signs were ignored. “In 2015 and 2021, similar incidents took place in the same premises of the factory but operations were not stopped. In 2021, the owner Rajesh Agrawal was sentenced to ten years in jail in connection to the blast in 2015 which claimed the life of one man, but this was not taken seriously,” the report says.

A day after the blast in February, the state police had lodged a case under sections of 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 308 (attempt to culpable homicide) and Explosives Substance Act 1908, and Rajesh Agrawal and his son Somesh were arrested on February 7 and 8.

The probe committee has found that in the factory, hundreds of tonnes of firecrackers were manufactured illegally because the factory had only one standing licence that allowed it to manufacture 15 kilograms, which too was under litigation. They had two other licences but these only allowed sale and stocking of firecrackers, officials part of the probe committee said.

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The committee has laid accountability at the offices of the district collector and the superintendent of police, and commissioner who was in charge in 2021. “The commissioner Mal Singh had allowed the manufacturing of firecrackers in 2021 after the then collector had cancelled the licence,” the official quoted above said.

The report also praises the then sub-divisional magistrate and additional district magistrate, who in September 2023, had inspected the factory, highlighted the grave irregularities and suggested the closure of the factory to save lives. The inspection had found that the factory was in violation of the Explosives Act 2008, then forwarded by the additional district magistrate to the district collector.

But it records that despite the detection of these lapses, no action was taken to close it down. “The report has found dereliction of duty by the then collector and superintendent of police, who were removed after the blast as they failed to check the illegal manufacture of firecrackers in such large quantities,” the official said.

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A second official part of the three member probe team said that officials of the labour department, including the assistant director who was removed immediately after the blast, and the deputy director industrial health and safety, both now suspended, had failed to ensure compliance of labour law and safety of workers.

Issuing a host of recommendations, the committee has suggested stringent checks on safety before issuing licences, making senior officials including the district collector and superintendent of police responsible for surprise checks every six months.

Home department principal secretary Sanjay Dubey said, “The report has been sent to chief secretary, general administration department and director general of police to take action against the officers.”

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Congress spokesperson KK Mishra said, “The action against officers will not stop such incidents because it’s BJP leaders who are patronising the antisocial elements. Will the state government take action against local leaders of Harda who were saving the accused by mounting pressure on officers.”

BJP spokesperson Hitesh Bajpai said, “We are following zero tolerance policy, whosoever is responsible for the blast will be punished by the state government.”

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    She is a senior reporter based at Bhopal. She covers higher education, social issues, youth affairs, woman and child development related issues, sports and business & industries.

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