On the evening of January 3, when 13-year-old Soni heard the news of the factory blast, she along with her neighbour rushed to the Basai Dharapur village of Moti Nagar, New Delhi. At the factory site, which had turned to ashes, she was directed to reach the nearby Acharya Bhikshu Hospital where she found that her father Rajesh (40) and younger brother Anshu (5) had been declared brought dead. “It was an unusually long day for me. My younger brother, Anshu had been reluctant to stay at home with me and wanted to accompany our parents to the factory where they worked. As a result, I was alone at home and was waiting for them,” recalled Soni.
Waiting outside the ICU, where her mother Manju is battling for life, Soni was weeping when Newsclick met her. According to her, the doctors have said that there is only 10% chance that her mother will survive. Soni’s brother Anshu and father Rajesh were among the seven killed in the factory explosion which caused the building to collapse.
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The remaining victims include a newly-engaged young man, Ajay Kumar (21) and Ajay Kumar (23) who had just joined the factory. Ajay Kumar’s relatives said he was planning to visit Vashino Devi with his friends on Saturday, to thank the goddess for the job opportunity. Another victim, 18-year-old Sanjay Prasad, lost his life after getting buried under the rubble while his brother Gangesh was lucky to survive.
A local rickshaw puller, on the condition of anonymity, accused the police of lying about the numbers of dead workers. He claimed that the blast took place at 8 p.m on January 3, and that there were 28 workers in the factory at that time, of whom only five had survived.
Illegal Factories Continue Despite SC Order
The factory was operating in a residential area in Basai Dharapur village near Sudarshan Park, Moti Nagar. Locals said that even after receiving multiple orders for sealing the illegal factories, the factory owners did not budge. Vinod Bedi, a resident, said, “The factory blast was so dreadful that my entire house kept shaking for 10 minutes. Had my house been built with sub-standard material, it would have collapsed. As we came down after the blast, the entire factory was in ruins. The police came only after half an hour. In an attempt to escape, a woman jumped from the first floor, broke her ribs and died.”
Vinod’s house is next to the factory which has been running illegally even after the Supreme Court’s order for sealing the premises. Vinod said, “There are around 500 factories running and they have received countless notices but the owners keep the officials silent by bribing them. Sometimes, they pay up to Rs. 2 lakh. My mother told me that 10-15 years ago, a similar incident had happened here, but even after that, no safety measures were incorporated for the workers.”
On October 11, the Supreme Court had said, “It is unfortunate that even after 14 years of setting up a monitoring committee to stop illegal industrial units in Delhi, around 5,000 of them are still operating in residential areas.” The court had then noted that, “The committee had said in its report that all such industrial units which are illegally running in either residential and non-conforming areas, will be closed down within 15 days and their electricity and water connection will be disconnected.” As per the locals, no development has taken place to that regard.
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The relatives of the deceased said that the victims used to work for 14-15 hours per day. According to Soni, “Her parents would leave at 8 in the morning and return by 10:30 in the night.” Soni’s house is 5-7 minutes away from the factory. The villagers also expressed their general discontent with the Narendra Modi government for its anti-worker policies.
“Modi Hatao, Gareeb Bachao (Remove Modi, Save the Poor)” slogans rented the air a day after the blast, as hundreds of villagers protested on the road leading to the Moti Nagar factory on January 4. The road was blocked with barricades and police was deployed. A woman among the crowd shouted, “Narendra Modi Murdabad (Down with Narendra Modi).” The crowd followed her in unison.