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Factory Had No Fire Clearance, Say Officials After Blaze at Delhi's Anaj Mandi Kills 43; Owner, Manager Held

The building was packed with cardboards, plastic wrappings, garments, rexine, plastic toys and packaging items, aggravating the fire and resulting in dense smoke which suffocated the people trapped inside.


Updated:December 9, 2019, 12:57 PM IST
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Factory Had No Fire Clearance, Say Officials After Blaze at Delhi's Anaj Mandi Kills 43; Owner, Manager Held
A fire engine stands by the site of a fire in Delhi's Anaj Mandi on Sunday (AP)

New Delhi: At least 43 people were killed when a massive fire ripped through a four-storey building housing illegal manufacturing units in north Delhi's congested Anaj Mandi area on Sunday morning, in the second deadliest blaze in the national capital.

Almost all the deceased were migrant labourers hailing from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Police and fire department officials said many of the fatalities occurred due to suffocation as the people were sleeping when the fire started at around 5 am on the second floor of the building that did not have fire safety clearance and was packed with combustible material like cardboards.

It took over 150 firefighters nearly five hours to douse the blaze. As many as 63 people were pulled out of the building. While 43, including one minor, died, 16 were injured. Two fire department personnel were hurt while carrying out rescue work, officials said.

Those awakened by the fire, suspected by officials to have been triggered by a short-circuit, had to struggle to escape as the exit routes were partially blocked and several windows were found sealed.

Police have arrested the property owner Rehan and his manager Furkan and a case has been registered under sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and 285 (negligent conduct with respect to fire) of the IPC. The case has been transferred to the Crime Branch.

Officials said 35 fire tenders were rushed after the blaze was reported at 5.22 am in the Anaj Mandi building which housed manufacturing units for glass items, cardboards, handbags and other goods.

The building was packed with cardboards, plastic wrappings, garments, rexine, plastic toys and packaging items, aggravating the fire and resulting in dense smoke which suffocated the people trapped inside, they said.

Firoz Khan, 32, who worked in a cap manufacturing unit on the third floor and escaped unhurt, said the fire appeared to have started on the second floor and he could flee after alerting others as he was sleeping near a door. "When I got up, I saw flames engulfing the room in which we were sleeping. The door was about six metres away from me and I alerted other workers sleeping near me," he said.

"Four-five of us rushed out through the door. Many sleeping away from the door were trapped. I don't know if they are alive," he said.

The injured included two minors. However, it was not confirmed whether they worked in the units. The narrow lanes of Anaj Mandi area made rescue operations difficult for firefighters, who had to cut window-grills to get access to the building. Some injured were carried to the hospital in auto rickshaws.

A preliminary probe suggested that a short-circuit triggered the blaze. Power discom BYPL said the fire began due to "internal system" trouble.

In February this year, a blaze at hotel Arpit Palace in Karol Bagh left 17 dead, bringing under scanner implementation of fire safety rules in the city. Official sources claimed civic authorities had last week "surveyed" the Anaj Mandi building but the upper floors were found to be locked due to which the entire structure could not be inspected.

Officials were to visit the building again to survey the upper floors and accordingly issue a show-cause notice, they said.

Chaotic scenes were witnessed at the site, clogged with bystanders and politicians arriving in convoys. Firemen made their way through narrow lanes to rescue those trapped inside the blackened building and carried many unconscious labourers on their backs.

As the building lacked proper ventilation, most of the people died due to asphyxia.

Aditya Pratap Singh, deputy commander of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), said they detected carbon monoxide (CO) in the building. "The entire third and fourth floor was engulfed with smoke. The content of CO was more," he said. He said when the team started the operation, it found some windows sealed.

The dead and injured were taken to LNJP, Lady Hardinge and RML hospitals, where distraught people had a hard time finding their family members. Some recalled the heart-wrenching last phone calls made by their loved ones.

Nafees (58), who lost his two sons in the tragedy, said they had come to Delhi from Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh six years ago. They operated a carry bag-manufacturing unit on the second floor in which around 25 people were employed.

"I got a call from Imran (35), my elder son, who said 'Abbu, a massive fire has erupted in the building. I won't be able to come out alive. Please save me'," Nafees said with a lump in his throat. "I asked him to call the fire brigade and the call ended soon after. He didn't pick up my calls again," he said.

An elderly man, whose three nephews worked at the building, said, "At least 12-15 machines were installed in the unit. I have no idea about the factory owner. My nephews Mohammed Imran and Ikramuddin were inside the factory. I don't know their whereabouts." Imran and Ikramuddin were later found to be among the 43 dead.

Thirty-four people were brought dead to LNJP hospital and smoke inhalation was the primary cause of death. Some of the bodies were charred, Dr Kishore Singh, Medical Superintendent, LNJP, said. Nine people were brought dead to Lady Hardinge hospital.

PM Modi Announces Compensation

Describing the incident as "extremely horrific", Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh each for the next of kin of those who lost their lives in the fire. The prime minister also approved Rs 50,000 each for those seriously injured in the fire, his office said. The amount will be paid from the Prime Minister National Relief Fund, the PMO said in a tweet.

Delhi Govt's Ex-gratia for Kin

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his cabinet colleagues Imran Hussain and Satyendra Jain visited the incident spot to take stock of the situation. Earlier in a tweet, he described the fire incident as tragic and said firemen were doing their best.

The Delhi government ordered a probe into the incident and sought a detailed report within seven days. An ex-gratia of Rs 10 lakh each has been announced for the next of kin of those killed and Rs 1 lakh for those injured.

Kejriwal and his cabinet colleagues Imran Hussain and Satyendra Jain visited the site besides Union ministers Hardeep Singh Puri, Anurag Thakur and Harsh Vardhan, and BJP MPs Manoj Tiwari and Vijay Goel.

An intense political blame game erupted over the incident, with the BJP holding the Kejriwal government responsible for the incident and the AAP alleging that the saffron party was doing politics over dead bodies.

Senior AAP leader and Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Singh said it was "shameful" that BJP was indulging in politics over dead bodies. "It is the BJP which is responsible for issuing licences for running manufacturing units in residential areas. Instead of accepting its responsibility, the BJP has started doing politics over the dead bodies of the victims," Singh charged.

Leader of Opposition in the Delhi assembly Vijender Gupta demanded that the Kejriwal government call an emergency session of the House to discuss ways to prevent such incidents.

Ex-gratia for Bihar Residents

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh each to the next of kin of the victims, who hailed from the state. The chief minister asked the state's resident commissioner in Delhi, joint labour commissioner and senior officials to take stock of the situation at the incident site and ensure that the injured belonging to the state get proper treatment, an official release said.

Kumar said, a financial assistance of Rs 1 lakh would be paid by the Labour Department while Rs 1 lakh would be paid from the Chief Minister's Relief Fund. Describing the incident as tragic, the chief minister said, his prayers are with the bereaved family members so that they can bear with the loss of their near and dear ones, the release said quoting him.

Reactions from Other Leaders

Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi condoled the loss of lives in the fire accident. Union Ministers Hardeep Singh Puri, Anurag Thakur, BJP MPs Manoj Tiwari and Vijay Goel were among those who visited the spot on Rani Jhansi Road.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh also condoled the loss of lives in the incident. "The fire in Delhi's Anaj Mandi is absolutely appalling and horrific. My prayers are with family members who have lost their loved ones and I wish a speedy recovery to all injured," Singh said. "I express my gratitude to the brave team which is carrying out the rescue operation," he tweeted.

The Congress found fault with both the BJP, which is power in all three municipal corporations here, and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

Overhead wires were dangling in the area and despite repeated complaints in this regard, government agencies did not take any action, claimed Delhi BJP president Manoj Tiwari.

"The (Arvind) Kejriwal government is responsible for this. The MCDs come under the BJP. They are also equally responsible for it," Delhi Congress Committee president Shubhash Chopra said.

Tiwari, on behalf of the BJP, announced Rs 5 lakh to the families of each of the deceased and Rs 25,000 for treatment of the injured. The BJP also cancelled its programmes for the day in view of the tragedy. "This settlement should not be here. They have been given alternative places but the Delhi government has not shifted them," Union Minister Puri alleged.

Former Union minister Vijay Goel said it was the Delhi government's responsibility to take action against illegal factories running in residential areas and prevent incidents of fire.

Bihar's Water Resources Minister Sanjay Jha blamed Delhi's power department for the tragedy. "I went to the spot, saw a mesh of overhanging wires. It was bound to happen. The power department is responsible for it. The Bihar CM is monitoring the situation and fear the death toll will cross 43," he said.

(With inputs from PTI)

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