Sivakasi fire: 12 arrested, officials begin blame-game

Twelve persons were arrested on Thursday in connection with the gruesome tragedy at a fireworks manufacturing unit near Sivakasi.

Updated: Sep 06, 2012, 22:14 PM IST

Sivakasi: Twelve persons were arrested on Thursday in connection with the gruesome tragedy at a fireworks manufacturing unit near here that claimed 39 lives, even as government ordered a magisterial probe into the mishap and officials indulged in a blame-game.

As a hunt was launched to nab the factory owner, a top police official said several violations of safety norms like overcrowding, overstocking and wrong mixing of chemicals, had been found, leading to one of the worst mishaps yesterday in Sivakasi, hub of the country`s cracker industry.

Five persons had taken the Omshakthi fireworks factory complex, the scene of the tragedy, on lease.They were, its foreman,three supervisors and three accountants, police said.

A hunt was on for the owner of the factory, Murugesan and ten teams had been formed to nab him, Virudhunagar Superintendent of Police Najmal Hoda told reporters here.

Prompted by the incident, Hoda said all factories would be inspected for violations by various departments.

After a meeting of senior ministers to discuss steps to prevent recurrence of such incidents, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa announced a magisterial probe into the fire in which the toll rose to 39 with three more succumbing to burns.

A blame-game began with Rangaswamy, an official of the Controller of Explosives, saying licences of the factory, valid up to 2014, were suspended three months ago due to 40 different types of violations.

However, Revenue official Rajagopal said they had not received the communication in this regard from the state controller of explosives. "Had I known about the communication, I would have acted and sealed the factory," he said, exposing the communication gap in official circles.

DGP (Fire and Rescue operations) Bholanath, who visited the factory, blamed "human error" for the fire.

Speaking to reporters, he said cracker materials should be handled before 10AM as per the rules because the heat in the atmosphere would be mild. Cracker chemicals were handled in the noon when the heat was extreme, leading to friction and the accident, he said.

The condition of over 40 of the 70 people injured was
stated to be serious in various hospitals.

Police said several teams had been formed to check all the other fireworks factories in Virudhunagar district to find out the validity of the licence, stocks piled, number of employees, violations if any and take action on the spot.

"It is absolutely illegal.. It is absolutely wrong," Hoda said, referring to the owner giving the premises on lease. Cases had been registered against the lease holders and owner under various sections of IPC and Explosives Act.

Initial examination by forensic experts revealed that mixing of chemical had been done in "unscientific proportions".

Rangaswamy said the violations, including employing more than 300 workers against the norm of 200 employees, had been noticed before the suspension of the licences besides which the factory had stepped up production beyond its capacity to meet the demand for crackers for Diwali.

An official in the rank of Joint director of forensic department also visited the site and collected the samples of the chemicals and crackers to analyse the causes for the fire and would submit a report to the government shortly.