At least eight people were killed in an explosion that ripped through a stockpile of fireworks at a village in Duttapukur, North 24-Parganas, on Sunday morning, barely three months after a similar incident claimed a dozen lives at an illegal fireworks factory in East Midnapore’s Egra.
Police, with the help of fire and emergency services, recovered six charred bodies from a house operating as a stockyard at Mojpole-Paschimpara village. A critically injured person died at the Barasat State General Hospital. The identities of the deceased workers are not yet known.
The eighth, Samsur Ali, 50, owner of the house and a motor van operator, critically injured when the building collapsed, died later at the Barasat hospital.
At least eight more, including a woman and two boys aged eight and 14, were injured as the debris fell on them when they were going past the blast site.
However, neither Barasat district police chief Bhaskar Mukherjee nor North 24-Parganas district magistrate Sharad Kumar Dwivedi, who visited the spot, could give the exact toll.
“We are thoroughly combing the blast spot and adjacent places, and clearing the debris to trace victims, if any, to give a comprehensive figure later,” said Mukherjee.
The impact of the blast was so severe that the single-story building where it occurred collapsed completely, and at least a dozen houses near it saw substantial damage. Severed body parts of labourers were found on nearby rooftops.
Relatives of the homeowner claimed that around a year ago, he had rented out a room of his house to two traders, Keramat Seikh and Jiyat (last name as yet unknown), for use as a stockyard of finished fireworks and explosive chemicals. He also gave his orchard adjacent to the house for use as the fireworks factory, where the duo set up processing units. Sources said the duo had engaged homemakers from the village to package the explosive mixture into fireworks from their homes.
Both Keramat and Jiyat are absconding.
The incident triggered mob fury, as villagers scuffled with the police, accusing them of a nexus with the duo. The residents alleged they were allowed to run the illegal unit despite repeated appeals for its closure. The villagers also damaged a vehicle of a brick kiln owner, accusing him of being involved in bomb-making, after police recovered a cache of explosives from the kiln.
The exact reason for the blast was yet to be ascertained. Sources said a container of explosive chemicals was somehow ignited around 10am when some workers were pouring them into small bags for delivery to the women at their homes. Villagers heard a deafening sound and saw the house had collapsed, with smoke billowing out.
After the Egra blast, some Duttapukur residents had said they were afraid of a similar tragedy.
“After the Egra blast, we were afraid. So when we found Keramat and Jiyat were using Samsur’s home and orchard to stock and process explosives, we objected. But the duo assured us of safety,” said Hafizul Islam, Samsur’s nephew.
“I spoke to my uncle, but he requested me to ignore it since he was getting a good amount as rent,” he added.
Recently, some local Trinamul workers objected to the unit after they found a container of explosives in the house.
“We were shocked.... We even told the police to look into the matter. But nothing happened. Some people even alleged we were getting in their way of earning a living,” said one of the Trinamul workers.
Local sources said Keramat and Jiyat had hired at least 10 labourers locally and from Murshidabad to stay in Samsur’s orchard.
Local Trinamul MLA and food minister Rathin Ghosh alleged a big order for explosives was placed by the local ISF leadership which compelled the duo to outsource workers from Murshidabad. Claiming ignorance about the unit, Ghosh said: “I came to know about it now, and also that an ISF leader had given an order since they won a seat in the local panchayat.”
Local Trinamul workers rubbished his claim. “He knew everything. The ISF came into the picture barely two months ago. The unit came up over a year ago,” said a Trinamul worker.
ISF MLA Nawsad Siddique denied the charges of his party placing an order and sought an NIA probe.