Nine labourers were killed and at least five others were injured when an explosion ripped through an illegal fireworks factory in EastMidnapore on Tuesday afternoon.
The impact of the blast was so severe that some nearby houses also caught fire and torn body parts of labourers at the factory flew out and fell into an adjacent pond. Police began searching the pond by pumping out the water.
The blast occurred at Khadikul village near Egra, barely 3km from the Odisha border.
The exact reason for the blast is yet to be ascertained. Sources claimed that a stockpile of gunpowder and explosive chemicals had caught fire while labourers were working there.
About 12pm, local residents heard a deafening noise and noticed smoke billowing from the fireworks factory owned by Krishnapada Bag, 61. Bag is purportedly a Trinamul Congress activist, who is apparently traceless after the blast.
The villagers claimed that at least 15 labourers were working inside when the blast had occurred.
East Midnapore district police chief Amarnath K. said: “Nine bodies have been found so far. We are thoroughly searching the blast spot and adjacent places to trace other victims if any.”
The factory was housed in a 3,000sqm-shed made of corrugated sheets on a field.
Mamata sent seniorTrinamul leader and minister Manash Bhuniya to thespot to take stock of the situation.
The police said the condition of the injured persons admitted to the local hospital was quite critical. Hospital sources said all the injured persons suffered around 90 per cent burns.
Two injured persons were transferred to the SSKM Hospital in Calcutta and a third one to another hospital in the city.
Police officers claimed that the factory had been raided last month and ordered to shut down. But owner Bag managed to continue operations using his political clout, alleged a section of local residents.
The incident triggered mob fury as the villagers scuffled with the police, accusing them of a nexus with Bag. The residents said Bag had been allowed to run the illegal factory despite their repeated appeals for its closure.
While the administration and the chief minister formally announced that the blast had occurred at a fireworks factory, the Opposition alleged that bombs were being manufactured by criminals close to the ruling party ahead of panchayat elections.
Some local residents echoed the Opposition.
“The owner of the factory has for long been engaged in the making of bombs, besides fireworks. We suspect he engaged labourers to manufacture bombs and stockpiled a huge amount of raw material. There were over a dozen labourers working day and night. We told police about our suspicion. But no visible action was taken,” said Arup Das, a villager.
A local BJP leader claimed the incident proved yet again that Bengal had become a tinderbox. “Several persons were killed in similar blasts over the past two years. Even after the chief minister’s warning, bomb-making units have been functioning freely,” said a BJP leader.
The East Midnapore district police chief said the blast had occurred at a fireworks factory.
“So far, we have no confirmation whether bombs were being manufactured there. We have begun a probe. Forensic experts will examine the spot to find the truth,” said Amarnath.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee blamed the BJP for inaction, claiming that the saffron camp ran Sahara gram panchayat where Khadikul is sitauted. However, the local Trinamul leadership clarified that the party controlled the panchayat. Out of total 14 members of the panchayat, 10 belong to Trinamul and four are Independents.
On March 6, the then panchayat chief was ousted in a no-confidence motion and Independent Swapan Dandapat took charge. Trinamul’s Milan Kumar De became his deputy