13 dead in In­dian gar­ment fac­tory fire

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

GHAZI­ABAD: Thir­teen work­ers died in a fire at a sus­pected il­le­gal gar­ment fac­tory on the out­skirts of the In­dian cap­i­tal yes­ter­day as they slept in the work­shop. The blaze started in the early hours of the morn­ing on the ground floor of the nar­row res­i­den­tial build­ing, which was be­ing used to make fake leather jack­ets, on the east­ern edge of New Delhi. Res­i­dents rushed to the fac­tory af­ter they heard screams from those trapped in­side as the fire quickly spread to the first floor where most of the work­ers were sleep­ing, eye­wit­ness Sha­habudin Ali said.

“We started dous­ing the fire our­selves with buck­ets and gar­den pipes,” he said. “The fire depart­ment of­fi­cials reached only two hours af­ter the fire.” The po­lice con­firmed that 13 peo­ple died, adding that the fire was likely caused ei­ther by a short cir­cuit or a cig­a­rette. “The fire broke out at a fac­tory in a res­i­den­tial area of Sahibabad around 4:30 am in the morn­ing. Thir­teen peo­ple, who were sleep­ing there have died and an­other two or three peo­ple are get­ting treated at the hos­pi­tal,” Bhag­wat Singh, lo­cal po­lice spokesman said.

Po­lice su­per­in­ten­dent Sal­man Taj said that three of the dead were burnt to death while the oth­ers died of smoke in­hala­tion. Res­i­dents and a lo­cal fire of­fi­cer said that two of the work­ers sur­vived by jump­ing from the build­ing’s bal­cony. “The two of them woke up by chance and say they screamed for oth­ers to wake up while run­ning to­wards the ter­race but oth­ers didn’t wake up, per­haps it was al­ready late,” lo­cal fire of­fi­cer Ab­bas Hus­sain said.

Hus­sain de­scribed piles of leather stacked in the build­ing’s nar­row stair­case and cramped work­shop, adding that the fac­tory was most likely il­le­gal. “From what we see, there was noth­ing proper and the fac­tory must surely not have been a le­gal one but we can say for sure only af­ter a proper in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Hus­sain said. Po­lice su­per­in­ten­dent Taj con­firmed that the two build­ing own­ers had been de­tained. The fire is yet an­other blight on In­dia’s poor record for work­place safety where deadly ac­ci­dents are com­mon­place.

‘In­hu­man con­di­tions’

Res­i­dents de­scribed the neigh­bor­hood with its maze of nar­row streets as be­ing dot­ted with il­le­gal fac­to­ries, which mostly em­ploy un­der­paid mi­grant work­ers. Ei­ther side of the charred fac­tory were res­i­den­tial build­ings with shops on the ground floor. The front of the work­shop had been shut­tered with a metal grill sim­i­lar to the neigh­bor­ing shop fronts, res­i­dents said, which had pre­vented the work­ers from es­cap­ing when the blaze be­gan.

Nawaz Alam, a mi­grant worker at nearby jeans work­shop, said he had lit­tle choice but to work in an il­le­gal fac­tory. “We are not paid well and have to live in in­hu­man con­di­tions in the fac­to­ries to save money,” Alam said. “I would pre­fer to work in a proper fac­tory but can’t get a job.” Eight work­ers were killed last month in a huge ex­plo­sion at a fire­works fac­tory in the south­ern state of Tamil Nadu while a mas­sive blaze in a fire­cracker work­shop killed 15 peo­ple in May 2014 in cen­tral Mad­hya Pradesh.

A fire at a fac­tory where leather bags were be­ing stitched killed six work­ers in Novem­ber 2013 in New Delhi. Some of the vic­tims were trapped in­side the build­ing and burnt beyond recog­ni­tion. South Asia’s lu­cra­tive gar­ment in­dus­try has a par­tic­u­larly alarm­ing safety record, with watch­dogs say­ing safety rules are rou­tinely flouted. A huge fire trig­gered by a boiler ex­plo­sion at a pack­ag­ing fac­tory just north of the Bangladeshi cap­i­tal Dhaka left 25 peo­ple dead in Septem­ber.

GHAZI­ABAD: In­dian res­i­dents gather in front of a gut­ted work­shop in Ghazi­abad, some 20 kms east of New Delhi yes­ter­day.

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