In a massive fire which engulfed a building in North Delhi’s Anaj Mandi area in the wee hours of December 8, 43 industrial workers have died while others remain critical. The affected workers include teenaged workers who had come from the neighbouring area of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in search of work. Meanwhile, another fire had been reported from the same building on the morning of December 9, a day after the tragic incident. However, Delhi Fire Service officials said that the fire which was reported around 7:50 AM was brought under control within 20 minutes.
The first fire was reported early on Sunday morning at 5.22 AM, following which 30 fire tenders were rushed to the spot. However, the sleeping workers could not escape in time due to the lack of sufficient exits. “Thirty-four people were brought dead to LNJP hospital and smoke inhalation was the primary cause of death. Some of the bodies were charred,” Dr. Kishore Singh, Medical Superintendent, LNJP, was quoted by PTI as saying. Out of the 15 injured brought to LNJP, nine people are under observation and others have partial injuries, he said.
The Delhi Police on Sunday had registered a case against the factory owner, after which he was arrested. Police said a case under section 304 of IPC (culpable homicide not amounting to murder punishable with a maximum imprisonment of 10 years) has been registered. The case has been transferred to the crime branch. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal called the fire incident as tragic and said firemen were doing their best. Kejriwal has also announced an compensation of Rs. 10 lakh for the families of those who died. The government has also ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident and sought a report within seven days.
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The four-storey building housed several illegal manufacturing units and was functioning without fire safety clearance, fire officials said. According to police, during questioning it was found that the arrested Rehan had the major chunk of ownership of the building and had rented it out to others.
According to PTI, Manoj (23), a resident of Begusarai in Bihar, said his brother Naveen (18) was working in a handbag manufacturing unit operating from the premises. “I got a call from his friend informing that he has been injured in the incident. I have no clue which hospital he has been taken to,” he said.
According to an unidentified elderly man whose three nephews were working in the factory, “At least 12-15 machines were installed in the unit. I have no idea about the factory owner. My nephews, Mohammed Imran and Ikramuddin were inside the factory. I don’t know their whereabouts,” the man said. He added that many units were operating from the premises which were located in a congested area.
NDTV reported a chilling audio account of a 30-year-old worker from Uttar Pradesh who made his last phone call to his brother, requesting him to "take care of things at home". The man, identified as Musharraf Ali from UP's Bijnor, pleaded to his brother to take care of his wife and four children after he was gone.
The accident has shifted attention to the existing fire norms in the city which are often neglected by small scale factory units operating in residential areas. In a similar fire in Delhi’s Jhilmil industrial area had led to the death of three people. As reported by NewsClick earlier, factory fires are common in Delhi, where unregulated factories operate from residential areas.