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Ludhiana factory collapse reminds: No lesson learnt from past industrial tragedies

This mishap, in which at least four people were killed and several reported trapped, is not the first that has exposed the poor safety standards being followed in industrial units in the state.

punjab Updated: Nov 21, 2017 01:00 IST
Ravinder Vasudeva
Ravinder Vasudeva
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Ludhiana,Ludhiana factory collapse,safety standards
Rescue operation being carried out by the joint rescue team, while a distressed man stands nearby(Gurpreet Singh/HT)

The fire and building collapse of a plastic manufacturing unit in Ludhiana on Monday has yet again exposed how Punjab has not learnt any lessons from past incidents. As per a preliminary report received by the industry department, the unit had no equipment to douse the fire, and the five-storey building had been constructed illegally with no emergency exits.

This mishap, in which at least seven people were killed and several reported trapped, is not the first that has exposed the poor safety standards being followed in industrial units in the state.

In 2012, Punjab faced one of its worst industrial disasters in which 23 labourers died when a building of Shital Fibres in Jalandhar collapsed. But the case was not properly followed up, and police failed to establish any charges against the owner of the factory, Sheetal Vij, and five others. Vij and others had been arrested after registration of a case that included allegations of bribing officials to get the “illegal” building approved for the factory.

But the case fell flat as all departments involved in giving sanctions did not put their case up properly, and all witnesses, including the kin of the deceased, turning hostile.

Experts say 70% of small and medium industrial units in Punjab are short of safety norms — be it a map of the building, use of chemicals, or fire safety norms.

“Building and fire extinguisher work is passed by the local bodies department. Presence of chemicals has to be checked by the pollution control board. Inspections are made by the respective departments but everybody knows how these departments function!” said a senior fire safety officer at the local bodies department. “The factory owners use their money power or political influence to get all faults ignored.”

Information from officials of the department of industries says Punjab has faced “more than 20” incidents of small and big industrial fires in the past one year alone, witnessing at least five deaths.

The department, on paper, has a policy in place wherein all departments involved in giving go-ahead for a factory have to be responsible for any tragedy.

Director, industries, TPS Kharbanda said the department has “very limited role” in ensuring safety norms. “Only respective departments have to check their own safety rules. However, I personally feel there should be more strict vigil to check violations independently by industry department too,” he said.

Ludhiana has been battling the blaze very frequently this year

■ Oct 31: A garment showroom on the first floor of a three-storey building on Mall Road gutted on the morning of October 31.

■ Oct 24: Part of a building housing a private yarn factory near the Shingaar Cinema collapses after a blaze engulfs it.

■ Oct 15: Material worth lakhs gutted when a major fire broke out in a hosiery unit in Gurbaksh Colony on Bahadur K Road. The unit was situated on the fourth floor of the building.

■ May 11: Four firefighters sustained severe burns while control a blaze at a textile factory in Vijay Nagar near Cheema Chowk.

■ May 5: Fire engulfed a factory in Ludhiana’s Transport Nagar. Goods worth lakhs damaged.

■ April 29: A major fire broke out at a yarn factory in Gopal Nagar locality of Basti Jodhewal. Goods and machinery worth lakhs were damaged.

■ April 26: Three labourers burnt alive in a fire that broke out at a cotton spinning mill situated in the industrial area.

First Published: Nov 20, 2017 21:39 IST