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Sep 07, 2012 at 10:13am IST

Sivakasi accident exposes the gap in fire safety

Sivakasi: A day after 37 people lost their lives in a fire at a cracker factory in Sivakasi, serious questions are being raised about fire safety in a town the produces 98 per cent of India's Diwali fire works.

The Tamil Nadu government has ordered a probe, but is too little and too late. There have been at least 10 such incidents in the last decade and over 100 people have died.

A day after the disastrous fire in Sivakasi, the Om Sakthy factory premises look like a battleground. The fire spread to almost all the 30 working units, but the biggest explosion took place at the factory entrance where the chemicals were stored after the fire had started.

Ironically, most of the 37 who died were not workers. The probe into why the fire broke out has since been handed to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

At the accident site in Sivakasi, burnt trees, shattered buildings and explosives that are strewn around stands testimony to the disastrous blaze that killed the people.

Just a day before the incident, the explosives department had temporarily suspended the license of the factory for more than 40 safety violations. It is also known now that the owner of the factory had leased out the premises illegally for manufacturing crackers.

The 22 victims rushed to the Sivakasi government hospital are still in shock. It is hard for them to believe that they managed to survive. Among them are migrant labourers from as far as Kolkata. While 19-year-old Heyram survived with burn injuries to his feet, another man from his hometown died on the spot.

Bijay, a migrant labourer, said, "We are not told anything about the materials used, only briefed on how to make the crackers. When we came for this work, we did not realise that this could be so dangerous. Now we know."

Yet another fire accident in Sivakasi has raised questions about the ineffective surveillance by the authorities. Though routine inspections are being conducted, the factory owners find ways and means to bend the norms to suit their interests, jeopardising the lives of thousands of labourers who work at one the most hazardous industries in the country.

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