The fire at Bhiwandi on Tuesday has again raised the issue of powerloom units running illegally from residential structures.
According to police sources, many factories in the area have been functioning for three decades, even though they don’t have the permission to work. In the absence of a solution from the authorities, many such new factories have mushroomed over the years, said a source.
“The law does not allow a powerloom unit in a residential area, but the rules are blatantly flouted in Bhiwandi,” said Balaji Khatgaonkar, Bhiwandi municipal commissioner.
Umair Akhtar, 20, who works at one such factory, said, “My family lives in Bihar. I earn Rs20,000 a month. The food is cheap here and we get shelter too.”
“Earlier, the MSEB supplied electricity to this region. They faced heavy losses and the revenue, too, was low. In 2006, Torrent took charge of supplying power to Bhiwandi for 10 years. We have formed four groups to look into the theft of electricity in Bhiwandi. We have come across many such cases and have lodged criminal cases with the police station,” said an officer from Torrent.
Bhiwandi is a key textile centre of western India, with power looms managing a turnover of around Rs10,000 crore. The sector supports nearly 13-14 lakh workers.
“Around 8 lakh people work at powerloom units in Bhiwandi, in addition to the five lakh people working in nearby areas. Each powerloom produces nearly 200m of cloth a day. A factory works for 24 hours a day,” said Khatgaonkar, adding most of the workers are from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
A police officer from Shantinagar police station said, “During the time of the incident, not a single worker was present in the factory. We have taken the owner’s statement, who claims he has suffered a loss of Rs1.3lakh.”