The Madhya Pradesh government set up a special investigation team (SIT) on Monday to probe the Petlawad blast that claimed about 100 lives last week after explosives illegally stocked at a warehouse in a crowded neighbourhood caught fire.
The decision comes amid mounting anger among locals who blamed the administration for turning a blind eye to a disaster that was waiting to happen.
While the seven-member team headed by Jhabua district’s additional superintendent of police Seema Alwa will investigate the case, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan also promised a judicial inquiry. Officials from the National Investigation Agency (NIA) too reached Petlawad town to gather information about the incident.
Police were hunting for main accused Rajendra Kaswa who allegedly stored detonators and gelatin sticks for his mining operation apart from fertilisers in the warehouse and disappeared with his entire family after Saturday’s blast.
The chief minister spent an entire day with the victims’ families and promised assistance in a bid to soothe frayed nerves following a string of protests in the area.
“I am trying to bring the families, who have lost their loved ones, back on track. But finally, it is the families that will have to live with their loss,” he said, a day after announcing a Rs 1-lakh bounty on Kaswa apart from compensation for those affected. “It is my duty to help them in this hour of difficulty.”
Chouhan also removed two senior local officials for “dereliction of duty” and transferred the entire staff of the area’s police station.
Forensic experts said a short circuit could have set off the blast that tore down the storehouse and a nearby restaurant where dozens of people had gathered for breakfast.
Police seized 59 detonators and two batteries from Kaswa’s house in Petlawad while officials said they expected to catch him in a day or two as information trickled in from witnesses.