At least 18 people – including 15 workers from surrounding villages – died on June 7 in a blazing fire in a chemical plant in Urawade on the outskirts of Pune, India. The factory was owned by SVS Aqua Technologies, which manufactures chlorine dioxide products including disinfectants.
The workers were trapped on the factory floor when the fire started and spread quickly, leaving them with no escape route as the automatic door was closed, an official from the Pune District Disaster Management Agency said. Heavy earthmoving equipment was used to tear down the wall of the room the workers were locked in, but it was too late – they were already burned alive. Their bodies have been charred beyond recognition and are being identified through DNA testing. With about 40 other people present in the factory, they were largely identified as workers from the surrounding villages. Four more were injured.
According to media reports, a nine-member committee investigating the incident found that there was illegal stockpiling of flammable materials and a violation of fire safety standards. The company operated a chemical processing plant without permission from the state pollution control agency; was not licensed to manufacture disinfectants; and the workers were not required to have insurance.
“Our regulators are essentially no longer active and are always surprised when such accidents happen,” says Gopal Krishna, environmental and occupational medicine doctor at the Delhi-based nonprofit Toxics Watch. “The factory had not had any permits since 2016 and was against standards. We saw a similar pattern even during the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster, ”he says. Progress since then has only been on paper, but nothing significant has happened on the ground. Under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, even previously established standards would be watered down, albeit unsatisfactorily, complains Krishna.
Local police arrested the director of the Nikunj Shah company on a court order and charged him and two employees with culpable homicide other than murder and negligence in relation to flammable materials and explosives.
Modi has promised compensation of INR 200,000 (£ 1935) for the families of each dead and INR 50,000 for the injured. The Maharashtra state government also pledged INR 500,000 to the families of each victim.