1 1 killed, 200 injured in MP fireworks unit blasts; 3 held | India News

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HARDA: Eleven people were killed and nearly 200 injured Tuesday morning in a series of explosions at a fireworks factory on the outskirts of Harda that was ordered closed in 2022. Sources said over 200 people worked in the factory, with 70-odd in the morning shift. But in the chaos and panic, their fate was unknown till Tuesday midnight.
Three people including the factory owners – brothers Rajesh and Somesh Agrawal – and general manager Rafiq Khan have been arrested. Ironically, Rajesh was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in 2021 after a blast killed two workers in 2015, but he challenged the verdict.
The three-storey factory was obliterated in blasts that went on for an hour, leaving behind a heap of concrete and rubble that was so hot that it was impossible to get near it till late in the night. The true toll may be known only in the morning. Govt officials claim the body count is unlikely to rise as most workers had “fled after the first blast”.

Madhya Pradesh Fire Latest: 11 killed, dozens feared trapped in firecracker factory blast in Harda

This was a tragedy waiting to happen: a factory that shouldn’t have been open at all, and run by an owner who was sentenced to jail for the death of two workers in a blast eight years ago.
The factory’s licence was first suspended and later cancelled, but it kept running, allegedly under the patronage of powerful people. In Oct last year, an IAS officer inspected the factory and was shocked to find far more explosives stored than allowed. Action on the inspection report is still pending.
The factory has a history of deaths and failed inspections, yet it stayed in business until a catastrophic explosion reduced it to rubble, killing at least 11 people and injuring 200 on Feb 6.
On July 5, 2015, two people – identified as Sheikh Iqbal, 27 and Rakesh, 21 had died in an explosion in a rented house where explosives were stored by Rajesh Agarwal, one of the owners of the factory. A Harda court sentenced him to 10 years’ imprisonment in 2021, but he filed an appeal and was out on bail.
In 2017-18, the then collector suspended the factory’s licence after finding violation of norms. The suspension remained in effect for around six months – until the collector got transferred. Again, in 2021, three people died in a blast in a house in the same locality. Police registered a case, which is on.
On Sept 26, 2022, after an inspection by district officials, the collector suspended all licenses issued to the factory by the district administration. The collector also wrote to the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation to cancel the two licences it had given.
During the 2022 inspection, officials had found several alarming lapses – stocks of explosives beyond permissible limits and violation of security protocols. As per the licences issued to the factory owners, they were allowed to store only 15kg of explosives but officials found 7.5 lakh crackers.
However, the factory was again up and running after owners Rajesh Agarwal and his brother Somesh approached the then Narmadapuram divisional commissioner, who ordered a stay on the collector’s order until further orders. It failed yet another inspection in Oct 2023 but stayed in business, with deadly consequences.

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