Bawana: Labourers know perils of fire, yet they risk all
The F-83 building in Bawana Industrial area Sector 5 is locked. The industrial area near the Delhi-Haryana border made headlines in January last year, when 18 factory workers inside the building asphyxiated to death. The building that caught fire was a godown used to store firecrackers. On January 20, 2018, a fire broke out in the building. The door outside was locked. The workers inside were trapped and suffocated to death even before the fire reached them. Since that week, the building has been sealed.
There are advertisements pasted on the gate outside. There is soot on the walls. The windowpanes are broken. The workers who tried escaping the fire had broken it. In the middle of an industrial area dotted with factories and teeming with activity, this factory today lies abandoned.
But everywhere around the building, it is business as usual. All workers and factory supervisors have heard of Sunday’s devastating fire in north Delhi’s Anaj Mandi lane, in which 43 persons died. Most factory workers say there is still danger of another fire here, but they have no options but to continue risking their lives. Almost all factory workers are migrants from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh.
Raju Chaudhary, 29, who lives in a factory with his wife and four children said, he earns about Rs 15,000 a month. His wife, Radha earns about Rs 9,000. The two work in a plastic slippers factory in Sector 5. “We sleep in the same room. This helps us save money. After finishing work every evening, we shift the machines and the raw materials to one corner and sleep there.”
Chaudhary said he had heard about the Bawana fire tragedy but there is little he can do. “We come from places where there is abject poverty. We need work. We can either worry about money or safety.”
In these factories, while many workers eat at the small eateries outside the factories, there are some who prepare their own meals in the factory premises. There are around 12,500 functional factories in the area.
“Yes it is unsafe but it is cheaper. Our factory owners do not allow us to cook inside. But we hide the stoves in the room and cook,” said Anil Singh, 35, who works in a plastics factory.
Fire department officials of nearby Bawana fire station say that in summer, they get about 15-20 calls from the industrial area every month. The calls could be related to a fire in a factory or a garbage dump outside the factory. The workers dump flammable items used at the factories in the garbage dump outside.
Sri Ram, 70, who works at a plastic slippers factory, claims to be one of the persons who survived the January 2018 fire. He says that on that fateful night, he had stepped out for a smoke and was not inside the factory when the fire broke out.
“Even today, I check the doors of the factory where I work to ensure that they are not locked from outside. At 70, I wish I could leave this place and return to my village in Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh. But I cannot. I am too poor to take such decisions.”