A blast ripped through an illegal fireworks factory in rural West Bengal late on Wednesday night, leaving about a dozen people dead ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the state this week.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee ordered a probe by the state CID, but the opposition pointed fingers at the ruling Trinamool Congress and demanded an inquiry by the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
Leaders from the Congress, Left and BJP suggested that the powerful explosion, which sent body parts flying and pulled down the cement-asbestos structure, was reminiscent of an October 2014 incident when two people were killed while making bombs at a house in Burdwan district.
“It is clear as day. It was a Trinamool Congress bomb factory. From there bombs were supplied to different parts of the state even for the recently concluded civic polls. Police knew everything but looked the other way,” said CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty.
Last year’s Burdwan blast exposed a terror network of Bangladeshi infiltrators spread over several West Bengal districts. The two people killed while making bombs in a Burdwan house were found to be Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) operatives.
Handing over the probe to the CID, Banerjee said the factory at Brahmanbar village in West Midnapore district manufactured fireworks.
“They were making firecrackers for a marriage party. I have asked the CID to find out how could it result into a tragedy of such scale,” she said at a public meeting.
The incident came ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to the state that begins on Saturday.
Most of those dead appeared to be minors while four people were injured. The factory actually operated in a space previously occupied by a poultry unit, with only an iron net separating outsiders from the workers.
“Bombs were being made there,” mumbled Khokon Majhi, a differently-abled man in his mid-thirties who worked at the factory and was injured in the blast. “Suddenly a spark flew in from somewhere and then there was a deafening sound.”
Pieces of asbestos, chunks of cement, tattered clothes, burnt flesh and body parts were strewn around the site of Wednesday’s explosion that also damaged a few neighbouring homes.
“We have seen explosions in a number of cracker factories. But here things look a bit different,” said BJP MLA Samik Bhattacharya after touring the area with a party delegation. “Bombs were certainly manufactured here with the connivance of police.”
Opposition leaders said Ranjan Maiti, the owner of the property, and Ram Maiti, who operated the factory and died in the explosion, were Trinamool Congress members.
“We have arrested (Ranjan) Maiti. We have received complaints that the factory was illegal and it was used for manufacturing bombs. We are looking into all aspects,” said Santosh Mondal, the sub-divisional police officer of the area.
Nirmal Ghosh, Trinamool Congress' working president in the district, however, said Maiti had no connection with the party.