A 13-year-old boy and three other workers were killed while another suffered burn injuries after a fire broke out due to a short-circuit at a shoe manufacturing unit in outer Delhi's Mangolpuri in the early hours of Tuesday.
Salman (13) Chandrashekhar (20), Kuldeep (22) and Rajkumar (25) died while Mithilesh, 18, is undergoing treatment at Safdarjung Hospital. Police said the workers apparently died due to suffocation, though they had burn injuries on their bodies as well.
According to the police, the factory was being run illegally in a 70-yard hall on the ground floor of a three-storey building. The factory owner did not have a mandatory licence to run commercial activities. He had engaged more than 20 workers, including minor children and women.
The factory was operating in a residential colony located just a few hundred metres from the Mangolpuri police station. Seven months ago, the property's owner, Jai Narayan, had rented out the ground floor to Rajpal alias Vicky, the factory owner, for Rs. 9000 a month.
The family members of the victims and other workers alleged that they were forced to work at night by Rajpal and the factory's supervisor, Amar Singh. They said one of the two gates of the factory was locked from outside.
Police, however, say that the other gate of the factory was locked from inside and its keys were with Kuldeep. Rajpal and Singh have been detained.
Preliminary investigation revealed that the fire was triggered by a short circuit in the electricity meter. The presence of raw materials fanned the blaze.
BS Jaiswal, DCP (outer), said they received a PCR call around 3.50 am. The fire department sent four fire tenders to the spot to douse the inferno that lasted for about an hour. The victims, a senior police officer said, were on night shift and worked till 1 am before retiring to bed. They slept at the back of the factory while the exit gate in the front was locked by Kuldeep.
"The front door, through which the victims could have escaped, had a lot of material at the entrance because of which they could not negotiate their way through," said the officer.
Salman's 16-year-old sister said she also worked in the same factory but had returned home.