Vol. XLIII No. 14 April 07, 2019
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BAWANA FACTORY FIRE: Punish guilty, Compensate Victims & Take Measures to Ensure Safety at Work: CITU

THE Centre of Indian Trade Unions, in a statement issued on January 21, has expressed shock and grief at the incident of fire in a plastic factory in Bawana industrial area in North Delhi, on January 20, where 17 workers were charred to death.  Many more workers got burn injuries and are under treatment. It is feared that the death toll may increase further. CITU demands adequate compensation to the families of the deceased and to those who got hurt in this horrible incident.

CITU also demands an independent time bound enquiry covering not only the causes of the fire and the safety measures in the factory but also the role of the labour department and its officials including the labour inspectors who could not ensure the basic safety of life to the workers. The responsibility of the concerned officials must be fixed and cases of culpable homicide must be charged against those who are responsible.

There is no mechanism to ensure the implementation of the basic labour legislations including that ensuring safety at work in the comparatively new industrial area of Bawana. It is not sure that whether the victims are covered under the ESI or not. In similar incidents in Agra, Faridabad, Delhi and various other places, the experience is that names of most of the victims were not even there in the rolls.

The responsibility of the government of India and the Delhi government and its labour department cannot be underplayed in such incidents. In 2011, 11 workers were charred to death in a similar incident of fire in Peeragarhi, in Delhi. The government of Delhi at that time has assured the trade unions that a tripartite committee to ensure safety at workplace will be formed and the labour department will ensure inspections at all factories. The union labour ministry also had assured the strict implementation of the safety measures at work. Nevertheless, there were many more such incidents during this period, but none of the promises were implemented.

Such gross violations of the basic laws must be seriously dealt with. The current move by the government of India to further dilute the labour laws in the name of ‘ease of doing business “and “ending inspector raj” is going to cost the country many more valuable lives of the workers.

CITU while joining the aggrieved family of the deceased workers in their moment of loss, calls upon the working class of the country in general and the workers of Delhi in particular to intensify their struggles to protect the basic rights of the workers.

 


Delhi Fire: Untimely Loss of 17 Lives; Who Is responsible?

Anurag Saxena

A gruesome incident of fire took place in the Bawana Industrial Area in Delhi on January 20. The industrial area, spread over 2,100 acres of land, lies in north of Delhi near the Haryana border. The fire took the lives of 17 innocent workers, both men and women, and two more were critically injured because they jumped off the second floor rooftop to save their lives. Saturday was a lean day and had it been any normal working day, more casualties would have occurred?  

The owner, Subhash Mittal, had been allotted this plot for relocation of its earlier unit in Shahdara (east Delhi).  He was allotted 100 sq. metres of industrial plot under the name of M/s Diamond Plastic Industries. But he was not running the industry. He had rented this building to Satish Goel who further had given the space to Manoj Jain for carrying out the activity of production in the premises. The plot was allotted to carry out the activity of plastic moulding, a non-hazardous work but the day this incident took place it was carrying out the activity of firecrackers manufacturing. According to a press statement of the entrepreneurs association, the factory was illegally carrying out this activity.

Sector-5 of the Industrial area has small-scale industrial units. The sizes of the plots are very small. The built-up of the plots is such that it has only one side of entry or exit to the road. Further because of security concern, most of the owners of these plots have covered their front side with iron grills, which gives the picture of small jails.

The number of workers working in the factory was around 35-40. It is being reported that at the time of the incident, around 27-28 workers were working inside the factory and others were on holiday. As the fire began, the policemen, who reached there, managed to evacuate around 7-8 workers. Around 20 still remained inside, the intensity of the fire was such that 17 worker couldn’t manage to save their lives.  

As per report of the fire department, this building had only one entry and exit gate. The building was not having any alternative exit gate. The door to the terrace was also locked. The doctors performing post-mortem on the bodies said that four workers were so brutally charred that it was difficult to identify them. Most of them were migrants from Sitapur and Unnao in Uttar Pradesh and some were from Bihar. Almost all of them had joined the factory recently.

The entrepreneur who was running the factory, Manoj Jain, has been arrested by the police and charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

There are multiple agencies who own the responsibility of this grave fire. The DSIIDC, which allots the plot and is responsible for upkeep of the development of the area. Building plans are sanctioned by North Delhi Municipal Corporation. It also issues trade licences. Then there is fire department which gives no-objection certificate for fire safety manuals. Then there is inspector of factories under the labour department, Government of NCT of Delhi which issues the factory licence to the owners. Factory inspectors and fire department inspectors are to check the factories at regular intervals.     

A CITU delegation visited the site on January 21. The delegation included Anurag Saxena, Siddeshwar Shukla, H C Pant, Harpal Singh, D N Singh, Sunaina and Rajender, along with Farida an AIDWA leader and local resident of Bawana area. When we talked to the workers present, it was reported that a meagre amount of Rs 5,000-Rs 6,000 for 8 hours as wages is being paid to them and were not covered under ESI and PF acts. Labour laws are being flouted with impunity by the owners. Workers from other factories also reported that fire incidents are usual feature in this area.  More than 436 calls were registered by the fire department in 2017 alone from this industrial area. Ninety per cent of the owners of the industries do not have the mandatory no-objection certificate and are running without requisite fire safety arrangements. The sad part of the incident is that instead of owning the responsibility immediately after the fire, a blame game started between the BJP which controls the civic body and the AAP which governs Delhi. They accused each other of negligence.

CITU leaders also visited the homes of the deceased in nearby Bawana. They met the dependents, consoled them and offered every help to get them justice. The CITU submitted a memorandum to Delhi Labour Minister Gopal Rai and the Labour Commissioner, demanding a time-bound inquiry into the tragic incident and fixing of responsibilities of various officials. The CITU also demanded an inspection of other industrial units in the area, along with fire safety audit, and action against the offending owners. The Delhi chief minister has announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the dependents of each of the deceased. The CITU said the amount was too less and demanded a compensation of at least Rs 20 lakh. (END)