Official Halted Work At Killer Cracker Plant, Was Overruled. Now He’s Transferred

Two previous explosions, in which six people were killed, a history of operating without a proper licence, and safety lapses galore – the firecracker factory in Madhya Pradesh, which caused the deaths of 12 people on Tuesday, was a disaster waiting to happen. And yet, a district collector who intervened in 2022 and tried to prevent a future tragedy was not only overruled, but has now also been transferred.

Two days after the fire at the factory in Harda district, which led to multiple explosions that left 11 people dead and 174 injured, NDTV has accessed a document detailing the findings of an inspection carried out there in 2022. During the inspection, led by then Sub-Divisional Magistrate Shruti Agarwal, officials found a list of alarming safety lapses – like huge stockpiles of explosives kept in improper conditions – and established that the factory violated provisions of the Explosives Act on a shocking 11 counts.

The 11 points included the absence of approved maps/drawings of the factory and violation of an order which permitted a single-storey building for stocking explosive materials – which was done in a two-storey building at the factory. The inspection also revealed that all activities, from manufacturing crackers to storing materials, were being done in the same building.

It flagged the absence of safety provisions and stated that the explosive material kept in the building was much beyond the permitted capacity.

When the factory had been inspected in 2015, assistant director of Industrial health and safety had found the factory was operating without license and safety measures like fire extinguisher. He filed a complaint against factory owners for multiple violations. The owner Rajesh Agarwal was booked however Barwa remained absent from court despite repeated summons and warrants.

Based on the report, the current Harda District Collector, Rishi Garg, suspended the factory’s licence in June 2022 and subsequently ordered that all activities be stopped there.

Sources said the factory owners, Rajesh Agrawal and Somesh Agrawal – who are now under arrest over Tuesday’s explosions – are politically connected and managed to get the district collector’s order stayed. the factory owners got the collector’s order, in the name of Deepawali and resumed the operations.

After the fire and blasts at the factory, however, District Collector Garg and Superintendent of Police Sanjeev Kumar have now been transferred.

Two explosions had taken place in the factory earlier as well, killing six people. Three women labourers from a family had died in a blast three years ago and three other people had died in an explosion in 2021. Rajesh Agrawal had been arrested after the 2021 incident and was out on bail when Tuesday’s explosions occurred.

Officials said the factory had also been sealed in 2017 after some lapses were found, but had managed to get its licence renewed and resume operations in 2018. Even after the 2021 blast, its licence was renewed in 2022.

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