Was it an act of desperation fuelled by hunger or anger that claimed 15 lives and critically injured 10 others at Sree Mariyammal Fireworks near here? That is the question investigators were asking late on Friday.
As per the statement of Manikandan, a cargo vehicle driver in the unit, one of the workers, identified as Gopal, had suddenly dumped a heap of dried chemicals that triggered the blasts. “It was 1.20 p.m. We all had completed our work,” he said.
Some 20 persons were working under the trees outside the workshed, he said.
Then, one of the workers had asked the contractor Akka whether they could go for lunch. Pointing out that a few more pieces had to be completed, she asked them to share the work before leaving for lunch.
As per his account, some semi-finished goods, raw materials and black fuses were dumped all over. Even as seven persons, including some women, got ready to complete the task, Gopal was shifting the semi-finished goods.
As he brought the goods towards the workers, the contractor asked him to spread them out on the mat.
“I don’t know whether he did it playfully or out of anger or hunger. He suddenly pushed them, and this triggered the fire,” said Mr. Manikandan, who is being treated at the Sivakasi Government Hospital.
He said some able-bodied persons ran and took cover. Thereafter, there was a series of blasts in different worksheds in the unit, for which Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) has issued a licence.
Though officials said the licence was issued in the name of one Santhanamari, PESO officials found that the premises had been sub-leased to three or four persons. “Sub-leasing the unit to multiple operators is a serious violation of the safety norms,” Controller of Explosives K. Pandey told The Hindu. He said this very practice could have led to the higher number of causalities. He and others inspected the premises in the evening.
Though the location where the accident occurred was still under investigation, he said 15 worksheds were destroyed in the blasts.
Deputy Inspector-General of Police (Madurai Range) S. Rajendiran, who inspected the site, said special teams had been formed under the leadership of Superintendent of Police (Virudhunagar) P. Perumal, to nab those who were at fault.