Virudhunagar blast: 19 lives lost to officials’ apathy, how many more lessons needed?

Subleasing of units for making fireworks is blatantly known to the officials but they have not taken any action against the contractors so far, say activists

Published: 14th February 2021 05:16 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th February 2021 12:04 PM   |  A+A-

A view of the working sheds seen damaged following the blast that was triggered at a cracker unit at Achankulam  village near Sattur in Virudhunagar district. (Photo | EPS)

Express News Service

VIRUDHUNAGAR: History repeats itself, the first as tragedy, then as farce. - Karl Marx

After the horrific fire accident at Om Sakthi Fireworks at Mudhalipatti in 2012 that claimed 38 lives and injured 55, the Achankulam Sri Mariyammal Fireworks blast is reported to be the major fire accident in the district. As many as 19 people lost their lives and 31 sustained injuries in the Friday afternoon accident. 

History repeats itself
Police personnel on duty at the hospitals could vividly recall the three previous incidents, including the one at Mudhalipatti, where many involved in the rescue operations also sustained injuries and died. The more recent memory is of the Sippipparai fire accident on March 20 in which nine persons died. 
Speaking to TNIE, activist Veeraperumal claimed that the apathy and carelessness of the officials are the sole reason behind the repeated deaths. “In all these accidents, the cause of the accident is the same: leasing and subleasing, which is illegal. 

This subleasing is blatantly known to the officials but they have not taken any action against these contractors so far?” said Veeraperumal.  While 26 fire accidents at cracker units were reported in 2019 (15 people were rescued and four died), 17 such accidents were reported in 2020 (21 rescued and 14 died). Accidents were less also because of the lockdown, observed Veeraperumal.  

According to police, the unit owner, Santhanamari, had leased the unit to one Sakthivel for a period of three years. Thereafter, Sakthivel sub-leased individual rooms of the unit to four persons - Raja, Sivakumar, Ponnupandi, and Velraj. All the six were booked under Sections 308, 304 (ii) and 109 of IPC read with 9(B)1(a) of Indian Explosives (IE) Act. SP P Perumal said that while Ponnupandi was arrested, search was on for others.

Target-oriented work
One worker from the cracker industry, Ravikumar, said that more people were affected as the accident took place on Friday. On Fridays and Saturdays, more people work to meet the target. The contractors insist on making more number of finished goods. So, we dump all the chemicals and materials outside the building and gather around it to finish the work soon. One mistake and we all are doomed.”
CITU functionary Subbaraj said that as per norms, work related to phosphorus chemical, used for making tiny explosive balls in the crackers, should be completed before 8 am before the heat rises. “However, the work was done in the afternoon leading to the heavy explosion,” he alleged.

‘Continuous efforts have decreased accidents’
Deputy Chief Controller of Explosives K Sundaresan said that the number of accidents have reduced in the district in the past few years due to the continuous efforts of the officials. “These accidents with mass casualties take place only at units, where rules are flouted. Even if an accident occurs at an organised unit, where rules are followed, the number of deaths and injuries will be less, he added. 
Seconding Sundaresan, District Fire Officer (DFO) Ganesan pointed out that the number of accidents reduced due to the joint effort of the officials of different departments. 

Three bodies yet to be identified
As soon as the explosion was reported, government and private ambulances, along with the public, started the rescue operation. According to sources, 22 people were rescued via 108 ambulances. Nine were charred to death at the spot, two reportedly died at the government Sattur hospital, six at government Sivakasi hospital, and one at Government Rajaji Hospital. Of the 19 people, who died, eight are women, nine are men and the sex of two bodies are yet to be ascertained.

A body was identified to be of one Poomari (52) in the morning. However, the family of another worker, Malliga, claimed the same body at government Sattur hospital. In another instance at the same hospital, one body was identified to be of one Karuppasamy (57) from Nadusoorankudi but autopsy results revealed that the body was of a woman; his body was later found at government Sivakasi hospital. Of the 31 injured, 17 patients are being treated at six private hospitals in Sattur.

Further action
“The families of the deceased were provided with a cheque of Rs 5 lakh and an additional Rs 50,000 for conducting rituals by the industrial unit. The unit owner’s licence will be immediately suspended and a detailed investigation will be carried out after which action will be taken,” said Collector R Kannan. 


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