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Bawana fire: Homicide! Workers were locked in as blaze spread

No escape route as shutter down, main gate locked

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Relatives of Bawana fire victims wait outside a hospital in New Delhi on Sunday
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The firecracker packaging unit, where 17 workers were burnt to death in a massive fire on Saturday evening, was a frightening deathtrap with its shutter down and main gate locked from outside to ensure more labour and check theft, DNA has learnt.

There was no escape route as the blaze ripped through the two-storeyed structure in North Delhi's Bawana, multiple sources and workers said on Sunday. Only a small door, part of the main gate, was open, but it was too small to be of any help. "The lockdown was usual, primarily to prevent workers from stealing articles or shirking work," said a surviving labourer.

Chief Fire Officer GC Mishra also said that a charred body was found near the shutter, suggesting that there were efforts to open it. "Had the shutter not been down, it would have been an easy escape route," he said.

Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal said Principal Secretary (Home) will conduct a detailed inquiry into the tragedy. Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik also handed over the probe to the Crime Branch as the case "requires extensive investigation and a detailed follow-up".

The warehouse's licence was rejected in 2014. It started operating illegally a fortnight ago, sources said. The Delhi government said the warehouse was originally supposed to be a plastic goods factory.

It was a grade-four fire that means it was not big. But explosions took place inside the cracker packaging unit that resulted in casualties. Eleven bodies were recovered from the first floor. Two bodies were recovered from the staircase, three on the ground floor and another in the basement.

Eleven bodies have been identified. Doctors said the 11 identified had 30-40% burn injuries, while the others were completely charred.

Ten women were among the victims. Meanwhile, warehouse owner Manoj Jain, who had been arrested on Saturday night, was sent to one-day judicial custody. DCP Rajneesh Gupta said Jain was taken into custody after a brief interrogation as the police filed an FIR against him for negligent conduct and culpable homicide not amounting to murder. A forensic team reached the spot to investigate the reason for the fire, he said.

"Jain runs the factory which he had taken on rent since January 1 this year," said Gupta, adding that as per an injured labourer, packing of crackers was being done in the building.

Delhi industries and urban development minister Satyendar Jain told reporters that a probe committee has been formed and strict action will be taken after the report is submitted.

It took three hours for the Delhi Fire Services to douse the fire with the help of 80 fire fighters, 16 civil defence employees and 13 ambulances from the Delhi Government's Centralised Accident Trauma Services (CATS).

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