More than 40 workers including a minor died in sleep in a pre-dawn fire that swept an unsafe four-storey building housing several sweatshops in a residential area in India’s capital Delhi on Sunday.
The fire broke out around 5am on the second floor of the building in the congested Anaj Mandi area. It soon spread to the upper floors where scores of workers were sleeping.
Delhi Fire Service (DFS) said they received the call at 5.22am. Within minutes, some 30 fire engines reached the accident site.
However, the narrow lane and entrance leading to the factory building restricted the movement of fire engines and ambulances and hampered firefighting and rescue efforts.
Firefighters still rescued some 63 workers. Video footage showed them emerging from smoke-filled rooms carrying the dead and injured on their shoulders to the waiting ambulances.
The condition of more than a dozen survivors undergoing treatment in LNJP, RML and Hindu Rao hospitals is said to be critical but stable.
Some 35 workers were brought dead to LNJP. Most of them died of suffocation after inhaling smoke.
The ministry of home affairs sought a report from Delhi police on the fire accident, the second worst after the Upahaar Cinema fire that left 59 dead and more than a hundred injured in 1997.
The Delhi government ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident and the release of its report within a week.
Property owner arrested
Hours after the fire was put out, police arrested the owner of the building Mohammed Rehan and his manager Furkan for allowing illegal manufacturing units to operate and ignoring fire safety norms leading to heavy loss of lives.
DFS said it did not issue no objection certificate to the building owner to allow manufacturing units to operate there.
Its personnel said the building had no firefighting equipment, smoke alarms or emergency exits. The lone staircase to enter and exit the building was clogged with card boards, plastic toys, packaging material and garments from various units.
Several of the windows were found sealed. Poor ventilation led to more deaths from suffocation.
Mattresses and cooking gas cylinders found on various floors indicated that the workers were living in these illegal units.
President Ram Nath Kovind said he is sad to hear the news about the factory fire adding that his thoughts and prayers are with affected families.
Describing the fire as horrific, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the authorities are providing all possible assistance to the families of the fire victims and the survivors.
Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Khejriwal, who visited the accident site, said those responsible for the fire accident will not go unpunished.
The prime minister announced an ex-gratia of $2,805 to the family of the dead and $701 to those injured.
The Delhi government, under whose jurisdiction Anaj Mandi area falls, announced an ex-gratia of $14,025 to the family of the dead and $1,402 to those injured.