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Four More Die in Factory Fire in Delhi

Factory fires have killed 23 workers in Delhi in this year alone, yet the govt. has no plan of action.
 Factory Fire

Image Courtesy: Social News XYZ

Early morning on 9 April, a shoe factory illegally running in a residential area in western Delhi was engulfed in fire. As was the practice, the gate was locked by the owner when he left the previous evening leaving an estimated 40 workers sleeping on the second and third floors. After the fire was noticed, neighbours helped around 30 odd workers to escape from the inferno using wooden ladders, sarees, bedsheets and ropes. But four young workers died.

When the fire was brought under control by several fire tenders, four bodies were found in a third floor room – three were found to have died of suffocation by smoke while one was charred to death. Later, the police identified the dead workers as Mohammad Razi (20), Mohammad Shamu (17), Mahbub Barish (18), and Ayub Barish (17), the last two being brothers.

This is the third fire in Delhi’s vast, unregulated small industries sector that thrives in its lower middle class and slum areas, besides the officially designated industrial areas. In January this year, 17 workers were killed in a major blaze in a firecracker unit functioning without authorization in the Bawana industrial area. On 7 April, two workers died in a shoe factory operating in an industrial area in Bhorgarh, Narela.In all three cases, there were no fire safety measures installed in the premises of the factories.

In the latest case, the owner Biresh Gupta used to live nearby. He used to lock up the workers inside the factory in the evenings before leaving for his home and come back the next morning to unlock the gate. Workers were quoted by media as saying that they spent time chatting amongst themselves or talking to their relatives on phone. All the four who were killed in the fire, and many others who escaped, were from Hardoi district (near Lucknow) in Uttar Pradesh.

According to reports, the workers were paid on a piece rate basis – Rs.30 per pair of shoes. On an average they would earn Rs.8000-9000 per month, working 10-12 hours per day and virtually living as prisoners in the unit. This is much below the official minimum wages for Delhi which apply to an 8-hour workday. Official minimum wage in Delhi is Rs 13,350 per month for unskilled workers, Rs 14,698 for semi-skilled workers and Rs 16,182 per for skilled workers as per a notification in March 2017. However, this has not been implemented due to owners going to court. Although hearings have ended in December last, the court’s final order is still awaited.

Most factories in Delhi work in conditions similar to the one in Sultanpuri – with small premises, no fire safety measures and in violation of all labour laws, said Anurag Saxena, general secretary of CITU’s Delhi unit, a national level trade union.

“The state govt., which claims to have given hefty pay increases, has made little effort to improve these conditions. The labour inspectorate system has been gutted with just 11 labour inspectors to look after over 20 lakh workers in the Capital. Licensing and other govt. departments are corrupt and willfully ignore violations, including fire safety violations,” he told Newsclick.

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