It was business as usual at an illegal garments manufacturing unit throughout the last eight days between Thursday afternoon and January 25 when a boiler blast ripped through the establishment.
The blast that took place in southeast Delhi's Tughlakabad Extension has claimed reportedly 20 lives so far and injured 11 workers.
When Hindustan Times visited the sweatshop, which is reported to have employed around 300 workers till a week ago and is nestled dangerously among residential quarters, an array of small machines was seen being transported to a similar establishment located down the narrow bylane.
The sweatshop is located a mere hundred metres from two government schools in the area.
"The deaths of his poor workers and the fact that some of them are probably still buried there weren't enough to deter him from suspending work. My wife Sajra (35), who used to work there, got a call reminding her to come to work at 8 this morning," said Mahmood Ali (40), a resident of the adjacent Tughlakabad Village where most of the victims used to reside.
Ali said all that Munna Master, the father of the errant owner of the sweatshop, was doing was to shift base to a similar property, one of the five that he allegedly owns in the area.
"Though it may seem unbelievable, the narrow, four-storey building was used to cram as many as 300 workers engaged in different jobs on each storey. Some of them would stitch, some iron and some pack garments in plastic bags before sending them off to a godown," said Mohammad Irfan (21), who suffered 60% burns in the incident.
He was discharged from Lok Nayak Hospital, one of the three hospitals where the injured had been rushed to after the incident, on Wednesday night.
All that Irfan, one of the three survivors, remembers is falling to the ground after choking on the chemical smoke that came billowing down to the fourth floor of the sweatshop after a steam boiler on the floor above blew up.
"All the workers rushed down to the gate but a majority didn't make it out alive. How could we have escaped unharmed? The staircase is so narrow that only a single person can use it at a time. While most of us, including me, collapsed due to suffocation, many were asphyxiated to death and others trampled upon till their heads were crushed," he said as he shook his heavily bandaged arms violently on a cot at his residence.
Virender Singh Chahal, additional commissioner of police (southeast), said the death toll was 12 people while 11 were injured and a case under Sections 304A (causing death due to negligence), 337 (causing hurt by an ac which endangers human life), 338 (causing grievous hurt by an act which endangers human life) and 287 (dealing with machinery so as to endanger human life) of Indian Penal Code had been registered against Shamim Ahmed, the owner of the factory who was hanging between life and death himself due to the 65% burns he suffered during the incident.