Pune fire: case registered against owner

A day after 17 workers, most of them women, were killed in a fire at a chemical plant in Pune district, a case of culpable homicide was registered against one of its owners on Tuesday.

Fire safety measures such as installation of emergency exits had not been taken at the plant, the police alleged. A case was registered against Nikunj Shah, one of the owners of SVS Aqua Technologies, said Abhinav Deshmukh, SP, Pune rural.

Mr. Shah was questioned during the day and had been detained, he said.

The case was registered following an inquiry report submitted by a committee headed by Sub-divisional Magistrate (SDM) Sandesh Shirke, the SP said.

The preliminary probe showed that the company had not followed fire safety norms and building permission rules, he said.

There were no emergency exit doors and open space (where people can take refuge in case of fire), Deshmukh alleged.

According to some of the workers, the doors of the section where the fire started got locked, and local people had to use JCB machines to break down the walls and rescue those inside.

“In a nutshell, the company officials did not take necessary precautions despite knowing that thematerials they were using were combustible,” SP Deshmukh said.

Asked about the cause of the fire, he said the material used in the manufacturing of chlorine dioxide is combustible, and heat due to friction or a spark might have acted as trigger.

“We have some witnesses who also endorse that there was some spark or friction,” he said.

Forensic experts have taken samples and the chemical report will tell what kind of chemical reaction took place, the police officer said.

“But at this juncture, gross negligence on the part of the firm is being seen, and on that basis, an offence has been registered,” he added.

Asked if the company manufactured sanitisers, Deshmukh said it did not seem so. A small quantity of sanitisers was found but it could be for the use by the employees, he said.

Some locals had alleged that the company was also making sanitisers — which are inflammable — without license.

“It does not seem like the fire was caused due to sanitisers. As of now it seems that the fire was caused due to some material used in making chlorine dioxide,” he said.

Chlorine dioxide is used for water purification.

Deshmukh also maintained that the death toll was 17.

SDM Shirke had earlier put the death toll at 18.

As per the company officials too there were 17 workers inside the section when the fire started around 3.30 pm on Monday.

As the bodies were charred beyond recognition, blood samples of relatives have been taken for DNA matching to identify the deceased, Deshmukh said.

To speed up the procedure, samples are being sent to an Aurangabad laboratory besides the Pune one, the SP said.

The identification process was expected to be completed in four days, the SP added.

The plant is located in the Pirangut industrial area of Mulshi tehsil, near Urawade village, 40 km from Pune city.

Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar had said an inquiry would be conducted and a compensation of Rs 5 lakh each will be given to the next of the kin of the deceased.

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