Malerkotla’s Vishal Paper Mill, where a blast killed three workers and injured 19 on Monday, has no fire-safety clearance. Restrained by a Punjab labour commissioner order, the factories department hasn’t inspected the unit in three years.
All factories must have fire-safety certificate from the district administration. “I have checked all record 2008 on and found no certificate issued to the mill. This is gross violation, which I have reported to the local bodies directorate and the director of factories,” Malerkotla fire brigade official Karam Singh said. “The factory has neither a proper exit plan on display nor the compulsory fire-safety equipment.”
Via a November 2015 letter about inspection policy for ease of doing business, the labour commissioner had told the factories department field staff to raid only those premises that his office would list. “How can a labour commissioner sitting in Chandigarh know which factory in Moga needs inspection?” said a factories department official, producing the letter. “Our field staff is now toothless, our freedom to enforce safety rules, Factories Act, and labour laws eroded.”
It took a fatal industrial accident for Sangrur’s deputy director of factories to start inspection. Officer concerned Sukhwinder Singh Gill accepted that the mill management seemed negligent and the inspection were now based on a received list. “Will submit the charge sheet in court within a month,” said Gill. “We have to check all documents, permits, and safety standards of the factory.”
Punjab labour commissioner Tejinder Singh Dhaliwal said he had only implemented an inspection policy that Punjab Investment Promotion Bureau had approved. “We had reports that all sorts of inspectors were raiding factories on different dates and harassing owners. Now they must go together, and we tell them when and where. It’s done to increase investment in Punjab,” he said. “We are making a policy to check every premises for safety once a year.”