Friday, 1 November 2013

Explosion at Kumbakonam fireworks factory kills nine, injures 12

A blast at a fireworks factory in Olugucherry in Thanjavur district on Friday killed nine people and seriously injured 12, casting a grim shadow over Diwali celebrations.

Police said Shanalakshmi Fire Works, 30km from Kumbakonam, the site of the worst fire tragedy in Tamil Nadu, manufactured high-decibel 'chanalvedi' (bangers) and rockets.

Around 30 people had gone to the factory to buy fireworks around 2.30pm, and 15 workers were making them when the blast took place. Police said there were 10 two-wheelers parked outside the factory, and the fire could have been set off by a lit cigarette butt.

While such explosions have occurred in fireworks units scattered across Tamil Nadu, it is Sivakasi in Virudhunagar district, the country's fireworks hub where the maximum accidents have taken place. The state government woke up to the dangers of blatant violations by units in Sivakasi after a blast killed 40 people on September 5, 2012, in Muthalipatti village. Central and state officials conducted a series of raids bringing the industry here, the biggest in the country, to a standstill.

Licenses of more than 70 units were cancelled and the vigil was tightened on all the units to ensure they did not deviate from the rules.

The Thanjavur factory's license was renewed in September this year. Inspector-general of police (central zone) M Ramasubramani visited the burnt-down factory in the evening and ordered the arrest of the owner, Krishnamurthy. A thorough investigation will be conducted and maximum punishment would be meted out to the accused," Ramasubramani said. But for a marginal drop, the number of accidents has not come down in proportionate with the drastic action. While there were six fatal accidents in 2012, this year five accidents have been reported so far despite the vigil, claiming 14 lives.

In 2011, there were six accidents in which 21 people were killed. While there are 750 licensed cracker manufacturing units spread across Sivakasi, Aruppukottai and Sattur in Virudhunagar district, there is a thriving cottage industry in the villages.

The checks and the attendant fear among manufacturers have contributed to a 20% to 25% decline in production from last year, with operators looking to play safe. Owners of fireworks manufacturing companies however said there was no short supply as the overall market trend was sluggish and the demand has dropped by half from last year.

Police suspect that most of the people killed in Friday's Thanjavur explosion hailed from Thirupananthal and Anaikarai and had gone to buy fireworks directly from the factory. Pandhanallur inspector Palanichamy said only a thorough investigation would reveal how many of the deceased were visitors, and how many were employees in the factory. The 12 people, who were injured, suffered more than 60% burns and are being treated at Kumbakonam and Thanjavur government hospitals, police said. Thanjavur district collector N Subbaiyan visited the injured in Kumbakonam government hospital.

Friday 01 November 2013


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