In another industrial accident in Punjab, six workers were charred to death and 13 others seriously injured when a gas boiler in a soap-oil manufacturing factory in Khanna exploded on Tuesday night.
Deputy commissioner Rahul Tiwari who, along with Khanna SSP Ravcharan Brar and officials of the civil administration, rushed to the spot, has marked a magisterial inquiry into the incident to Khanna sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) Purshotam Singh Sodhi. The SDM has been asked to submit the inquiry report within a week.
The factory, Sanjeev Agro Food Pvt Ltd, owned by Naval Aggarwal of Khanna, makes oil used in the manufacture of soap from paddy husk. According to eyewitnesses, a huge explosion occurred in the factory at around midnight, followed by a fire which engulfed the entire premises and reduced the unit to ashes.
The deceased have been identified as Chotu, Devinder, Bhagirath, Pawan, Kundan and Umesh.
Twelve persons were admitted to the Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, of which three succumbed to burn injuries. Most of the injured - in the age group of 20 to 35 years are critical and have more than 50% burns. Three injured workers were admitted to Government Medical College and Hospital, Chandigarh, and one to the civil hospital, Khanna.
Sources said that at least 40 workers were present in the factory when the incident occurred. About half of them managed to escape just in time. Two trucks and two tractors parked on the factory premises were also burnt.
A rescue team recovered three bodies in the morning, while three workers succumbed to their injuries later.
The DC has announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh for the next of kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 for the injured workers.
Sodhi said the factory owner suspected that the blast might have occurred due to some lapse on the part of workers in operating the boiler, which contained hexane, a highly inflammable gas.
"Forensic experts from Chandigarh examined the spot to ascertain the reason behind the blast, but they are yet to identify the cause. They will now take the assistance of other experts," said the SDM.
"We will look into all possible angles and find out whether the accident was caused by some error on the part of workers or negligence of the owner. We will also examine whether the factory had adopted adequate measures for the safety of workers. With the help of Punjab State Industries Corporation representatives, the deputy director of factories and other departments, we will also check whether the factory had been adhering to the rules," he said.
Talking to HT, Aggarwal said he was not sure what led to the accident. He refused to entertain more queries.
The SSP said the police would decide on registering a case against the factory owner on the basis of the inquiry report.
A four-storeyed factory building in Jalandhar had collapsed on April 15, killing 23 workers and leaving 64 injured.
Meanwhile, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal expressed profound grief and anguish over the tragedy. He announced ex gratia compensation of Rs 1 lakh for the next of kin of the deceased and a financial assistance of Rs 25,000 for the seriously injured.
Badal directed the Ludhiana DC to extend all possible help to the injured and family members of the deceased.