Sivakasi factory owner caught

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P. Murugesan, owner of Om Sakthi Fireworks in Sivakasi which had gone up in flames killing 38 workers four days ago, was smoked out of his hideout by a special police team on Sunday.

He was nabbed near Karuppasami temple in Samayanallur, about 55 km from Sivakasi. “We have secured the first accused in the Sivakasi blast case,” said Virudhunagar district superintendent of police Najmul Hoda.

According to DSP Ramamurthi, Murugesan, 46, had gone underground immediately after the blast in his fireworks factory on September 5. Police had taken into custody 12 employees and contractors of the company but efforts to locate the main accused had proved futile.

“We had formed special teams under three inspectors to locate Murugesan by spreading out into Virudhunagar district and neighbouring places. He was a clever fugitive. He was using ten SIM cards in rotation to keep in touch with relatives and other contacts. We managed to identify a woman relative through one such phone call and got his location through the service provider,” said Inspector P. Raja, who headed one of the investigation teams.

Murugesan told investigators he now realised he had made a mistake by leasing out the factory to persons who engaged workers to make various types of crackers in his unit. These lessees had stocked excess chemicals and used large manpower to meet deadlines, which led to the disaster.

Fireworks unit flouted norms at will, reveals NGO

Blatant violation of safety norms is the main reason for the devastating fire at Om Shakthi cracker manufacturing unit at Mudalipatti, near Sivakasi, which claimed 39 lives, says a fact-finding team report released by a Madurai-based NGO.

According to the team from NGO Evidence, of the 38 people killed in the accident, only four were employed in the manufacturing unit and others were those who came to help the injured.
The report said of the 55 buildings in the Om Shakthi factory complex, housing crackers manufacturing units and storerooms, the government had permitted only 35 buildings.

A maximum of four workers can work in a room depending on the kind of crackers being manufactured. Rules permit the company to employ only 120 workers but it had employed over 320 workers in violation, Mr A. Kathir of Evidence said.

However, only 50 workers of the manufacturing unit were registered for employees state insurance (ESI). More than 90 per cent of the workers killed in the accident were not eligible for claims under ESI, he said.

The factory did not have a safe working environment nor did it provide protective gears for workers. Norms for storing chemicals and explosive materials were not adhered to and the workers were not trained to handle such chemicals.

Mr Kathir claims that the fire personnel reached the accident spot only after an hour. “Though Sivakasi is prone to such accidents, the fire and rescue team was not advanced enough to handle such accidents,” he said, adding that there was a need for creating awareness among the people of Sivakasi on cracker unit accidents.

The team urged the state and the Central governments to pay a compensation of Rs10 lakh each to the kin of the victims, besides providing Rs3 lakh for the injured. Adequate security and medical aid should be provided to all industries, including cracker units.

The team demanded that the National Human Rights Commission set up an inquiry commission headed by a retired judge, and also sought the intervention of the International Labour Organisation.

Mishap blame game fails to fizzle out

The Sivakasi fireworks factory tragedy that took the lives of 38 people could have been averted if there was proper communication between officials of the Petroleum and Exports Safety Organisation (PESO) and state government officials.

State government officials have accused officials of PESO for not informing them about suspension of the factory’s licence, stating that they could have swung into action if they were alerted in time. However, PESO officials maintain that they had informed the district authorities the day the licence was suspended.

“We suspended the licence of the fireworks unit after it was found to have violated more than 40 safety norms, including lack of supervisory mechanism and use of more manpower than permitted,” B. Rangasamy, deputy commissioner, PESO, which comes under the Union ministry of commerce and industry said.

PESO deals with implementation of safety aspects related to manufacture, use, transport, and storage of explosives with the aim of preventing accidents. Rangasamy said they had informed the district collector and the superintendent of police about the suspension of licence the very same day, September 4, a day before the disaster. However, state government officials were in denial mode and accused PESO for the mishap.

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