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Finger at dust in AC duct

Calcutta, Aug. 13: The blast at the Park Street McDonald’s yesterday was caused by dust trapped inside the air-conditioner ducts, the fire services minister claimed today, opening up a “negligence” angle.

Forensic experts had said the 9.34am explosion — which killed a 24-year-old bystander and injured four employees — happened because an AC duct had burst, releasing the refrigerant Freon gas that expanded fast and blew away the shutters and glass walls.

The experts had blamed the AC duct burst on a rise in pressure inside them, which appears to be consistent with the minister’s claim that the ducts were choked.

“According to my department’s findings, the congestion in the AC ducts was caused by dust,” minister Pratim Chatterjee said.

He said his department had lodged a first information report against the restaurant’s manager and owner for getting only a “provisional no-objection certificate” from his department despite having been in operation since March. “They did not have a fire licence,” the minister said.

The government, Chatterjee said, would form a comm-ittee with a member each from the fire services, police and forensic departments. “The committee will determine the cause of the accident, and whether the company which installed the AC had offered any warranty or maintenance.”

That company, Carrier India, however, said the “AC system could not have been the cause of the explosion”, adding that its employees had inspected the ACs in the presence of the police and forensic experts today.

“All the eight air-conditioner units… were found to be intact and also the gas pressure within them,” said the company’s marketing director, Krishan Sachdev. “There were no signs of damage or leakage of the refrigerant gas.”

But the director of the state forensic laboratory, Dhurjati Sengupta, said: “We had summoned a company representative to find out about the AC system’s layout. At no point of time did we give any clean chit to anyone.”

McDonald’s eastern India head of operations and development, Rudra Kishore Sen, said: “We follow the highest safety measures. Right now our priority is the welfare of the people who have been injured.”

Officers said they were probing if any kind of negligence on the restaurant’s part had led to the explosion. The police had yesterday registered an FIR against “unknown persons” for culpable homicide not amounting to murder, negligence in handling combustibles, and causing grievous hurt.

The preliminary forensic report is expected by Wednesday.

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