Six persons were killed and scores of others feared trapped after a factory building collapsed in the Focal Point area of Jalandhar. Army, police, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel had launched an operation along with volunteers of religious organisations to rescue persons still trapped under the rubble.
Deputy commissioner Priyank Bharti told Hindustan Times that 55 persons had so far been rescued, whereas three were found dead. Though the death toll was pegged at three officially, six bodies had been dug out at the time of filing of this report.
The injured were rushed to Devi Talab Charitable Hospital as well as the Civil Hospital, where the condition of some was said to be "critical".
The incident occurred at around 11.30pm on Sunday night when several workers were busy manufacturing blankets in the premises of Sheetal Fibers Limited. The four-storey building collapsed like a pack of cards, giving no chance to workers to escape.
"I heard a big sound and fearing a bomb blast ran outside and saw the building collapse," an eyewitness Sanjay Mishra, who was working in a neighbouring factory, told Hindustan Times. He said that people from surrounding factories soon gathered at the spot and informed police about the incident. A posse of police was soon summoned to launch the rescue, sources said.
Senior district administration officers, including deputy commissioner Priyank Bharti and police commissioner Gaurav Yadav also rushed to the spot and summoned Army, NDRF, CRPF, ITBP and local fire brigade personnel for the rescue operation after assessing the situation.
Assistant commissioner of police (ACP) Jasbir Singh Rai, who was among the first to reach the spot, claimed that about 45 trapped persons were rescued during the night.
As many as 45 personnel of 7th Battalion of NDRF, posted in Bathinda, reached the spot at around 6.30am though the rescue operation could begin only by 11.30am on Monday due to lack of required equipment like gas cutters etc.
A column of Engineers Regiment of Vajra Corps led by Colonel Simarjeet Singh also joined the operation and started digging the debris from the front portion of the collapsed building.
NDRF officials along with sniffer dogs and loudspeakers entered the debris and found one Amarjit, whose foot was trapped under an iron pillar, crying for help. A team of para-military staff rescued him, but not before amputating his feet.
NDRF men created a hole from an adjoining building and rescued another trapped worker Ajay after about three hours. However, another unidentified person was found dead under a pillar, though his body had not been brought out, NDRF sources said.
Asked about the number of persons feared trapped in the building, DC Bharti said he could not reveal the exact figures. Even the factory owner, Sheetal Vij, had expressed ignorance of the workers present on the premises at the time of collapse.
However, sources said that 304 employees had marked their attendance on the fateful night.
As for the cause of collapse, the DC said, "The exact cause will be known only after a detailed magisterial probe."
Meanwhile, Sheetal Vij ruled out any blast due to boiler, since there was no such equipment on the factory premises.
Jalandhar police later arrested industrialist Vij, a known social and religious figure, for culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
"We have registered a case under Section 304 of the IPC against Vij and his unidentified associates involved in the incident while various sections of Prevention of Corruption Act have been invoked against unknown government officials for conniving with Vij, who failed to comply with prescribed norms to run the industrial unit," police commissioner Gaurav Yadav said.