Pune: Mangal Akhade had joined SVS Aqua Technologies just two months ago to support her family and for a better future, but the fate had something else for her in store as she was among 18 workers who perished in a massive fire at the company's plant near here on Monday.
The air was thick with grief in areas surrounding the chemical company's fire-ravaged premises near Uravade village, around 40km from Pune city, as residents struggled to come to term with the loss of so many workers from the locality.
The deceased, mostly women, were residents of villages near the Pirangut MIDC area of Mulshi tehsil of Pune district, where SVS Aqua Technologies, which manufactures chlorine dioxide among other chemicals, is located.
Mangal, 28, had worked in the private firm for just two months, said her uncle.
"My niece used to work in the firm. I rushed to the firm after I heard about the fire incident. For last two months, she was working in the firm and she has two small children," said Bhau Akhade, her uncle.
Her husband works on farms and the family is very poor, he said.
The local administration should give adequate compensation to the family members of the workers who died in the inferno, Bhau Akhade said.
Some locals rushed to the spot after the fire broke out and anticipating that workers may have been trapped inside, they immediately arranged two backhoe loaders (heavy equipment vehicles) and broke the walls of the firm, and arranged a water tanker to douse the flames.
"The intensity of the fire was so high that it was difficult to go near the building. However, our drivers on backhoe loaders went ahead and broke the walls so that the people could come out," said a local resident.
Devendra Potphode, chief fire officer, PMRDA (Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority), Fire Services, said as per company officials, 37 workers were at the plant when the tragedy occurred.
Meanwhile, Dr Abhinav Deshmukh, Superintendent of Police, Pune district, said an accidental death case has been registered in connection with the incident.
‘Couldn’t do anything to save my wife’
Baban Margale, Mangal’s husband, was on the same premises when fire started at a chemical plant near Uravade village in the district where he and his wife Mangal worked.
But Margale could not do anything to save her as the doors of the building where she worked got locked, he told reporters here.
Mangal (28) was among the 17 workers, most of them women, who died in the dreadful fire.
Despite the intensity of the fire, local people used JCB machines to break down a wall of the building. But for Mangal Margale and some others it was too late.
"My wife was working here for the last one and a half years. It was her first day at work after a gap of one and a half months due to illness. After taking permission from the company officials, she had resumed work only yesterday," said Baban Margale, who has two children.
"As we six or seven workers came out of our section, within a few moments the fire spread everywhere and no one could do anything as the doors (of the building where his wife worked) got locked," said 34-year-old Margale, a resident of Kharvade village.
Waiting outside the morgue of the Sassoon general hospital in Pune to collect her body, Sambhaji Gavade, the uncle of the Margales, said a case of culpable homicide should be registered against company officials.
Safety audit should be conducted at all factories in the tehsil, he said.
Sameer Kanjane, cousin of Geeta Diwadkar (40), one of the victims, said she had been working with the company for the last six months.
"She worked elsewhere earlier, but lost the job when that company shut down due to COVID-19," he said.
Since most bodies were burnt beyond recognition, the authorities are resorting to DNA matching technology for identification.
Some relatives were at the hospital's laboratory to give samples for DNA analysis.
"DNA analysis of the bodies should be conducted as soon as possible and the bodies should be handed over to us," said one of them.