City wakes up to morning inferno
New Delhi: Instead of the wintry morning sunshine greeting the city, there were deathly shrieks of desperation as a factory building in North Delhi's Anaj Mandi on Rani Jhansi Road was engulfed in flames in the wee hours on Sunday.
Till reports last came in, at least 43 labourers, most of whom were in their sleep; died with another 16 undergoing treatment in four different hospitals.
As the billowing smoke continued to spread through the residential buildings packed into the narrow, cramped lanes of Sadar Bazaar, officials from the Delhi Fire Services (DFS), National Disaster Response Force, Delhi Police and Civil Defence volunteers were mobilised and more than 30 fire tenders reached the spot.
Meanwhile, the Delhi Police registered a case against the owner of the factory, identified as Rehan and arrested him along with his manager, Fukran, who used to take care of the day-to-day affairs in the factories operating out of the building. The case was registered at Sadar Bazaar police station and has now been handed over to the Delhi Police's Crime Branch for further probe. Rehan will be investigated under charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and attempt to commit culpable homicide.
The factory building, surrounded by residential houses on all three sides, had just one side open for access. There were at least 20 separate factories spread across the four floors of the building that were involved in plastic manufacturing, tiffin-box making, mattress stitching, backpack manufacturing and jacket assembly. The lanes around the building are lined with tall stacks of car and bike tyres — all highly combustible. Director of the DFS later in the day confirmed that Rehan's factory had no fire clearance from his department. Further, residents in the area added that while the neighbourhood was largely residential, such small factories have started operating in the last 10-15 years, resulting in a lot of problems for them.
Originating on the second floor, it is suspected that the fire started because of a short circuit in the power meter on that level. While the main entrance to the building was locked from the outside, another exit meant to be used in cases of fire was found to be locked from inside. For a good 45 minutes, all the labourers could do was scream for help from the windows, which had grills welded to the frame. Most of the workers, who had come from small villages in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to make a living in Delhi, were asleep when the fire broke out.
The DFS received the first call about the incident at 5:22 am, following which the fire tenders started to reach the spot within the next five to seven minutes along with officials of the Delhi Police. Following this, teams from the NDRF and Civil Defence reached the spot as well. However, it took emergency responders another 20-25 minutes to reach the building due to its location in the congested lanes of North Delhi, according to eyewitnesses. Because of this, the fire department had to roll out 500 metres of hosepipe to pull through the winding lanes of Anaj Mandi and reach the flaming building.
The deceased and injured were rushed to LNJP Hospital, Hindu Rao Hospital, Lady Hardinge and RML Hospital for post-mortem procedures and treatment respectively, as notes of condolence started pouring in from all political quarters.
Expressing his condolences, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced ex gratia of Rs 2 lakh each for the next of kin of those who lost their lives.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted that the tragic incident will be probed and "no culprit will be spared". Home Minister Amit Shah also sent out his thoughts and prayers to those affected in the fire. Moreover, Delhi ministers Satyendar Jain and Imran Hussain along with Leader of Opposition Vijender Gupta also paid their condolences.
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