Established nearly 30 years ago, Rudra Alloys furnace in the iron hub of Mandi Gobindgarh is owned by the Gupta clan and is the oldest in the area.
On November 21, a high intensity blast spelt tragedy for nearly 20 migrant families whose male members worked as labourers in the furnace and were allegedly working without any safety gear.
The death toll in the incident reached ten on Wednesday and as the news of the tenth victim, Ashok, 40 reached the slums of Ambey Majra, his three children were busy playing in the mud in front of their one-room home.
Neetu (13), Nita (9) and Suman (6) never went to school. The hand-to-mouth income of their father meant the family could not afford it. “Now, even their father is no more. The government will give compensation but will that money ensure the future of these children?” asked Ashok’s wife, Sunita.
Like Sunita, various other mothers are wondering as to who will earn for their children as their husbands who had earned a meagre Rs 9,000 for eight hours in an high temperature iron furnace are no more.
Chandni, wife of Roshan (25) who died two days ago after suffering 45 per cent burn injuries, is eight months pregnant with their second child. “I do not know how my husband died. I have been told that there was some accident at the factory. I have nothing to even weep over now,” says Chandni.
The family has lost another son, Dilip, 26, whose body was so badly charred that it remained unidentified for two days after the blast. His wife Shanti is distraught and reluctant to speak but her mother-in-law, Hira Devi, urges her to “speak boldly” if she wants any action against the factory owners.
Her two-year-old son Anand and infant Ashuraj, barely four months crying in her lap, she speaks up. “At least we were getting food when their father was alive. Now, even that will come after begging. I do not know how to read or write a word and now I cannot even imagine my children going to school. We never planned to go back from Punjab but now there is no option. What will I do here? These two infants do not even know that their father is no more,” she says.
The family of 25-year-old Lalu, who also died in the incident has already moved back, said his neighbors and so did the families of Fagu Lal and Dev who were from Nepal.
“They moved back after cremating the bodies. We will see how the compensation cheques can be handed over to them,” said an official from Fatehgarh Sahib administration.
Others who lost their lives include Sadanand (27), Manohar (45), Ashok (29) and Pramod (23), who hailed from UP and Bihar. The condition of Jugnu, 20 with 65 per cent of burn injuries is critical, said doctors at Christian Medical College and Hospital.
‘Workers were not given safety kits’
Deputy director (factories) Sukhwinder Singh Gill claimed that the workers were not provided safety kits and the iron scrap that was fed into the furnace was not segregated as per norms. “We have submitted a detailed report to the director (factories) and a case has been registered under Factories Act which the court will decide on. It can lead to maximum punishment of two years for the factory owners,” he said. Police have registered an FIR under section 304-A (death due to negligence) without any names. SP(D) R S Sohal said “a report from the forensic team is awaited for further action.”
Owner denies charges
Naresh Gupta, owner, Rudra Alloys, claimed it was just an ‘accident’ and a probe would prove this. “It is a completely wrong allegation that workers were not having safety gear. We are running unit since 1983 and they were wearing proper helmets, boots, gloves and so on. Also, we have given them adequate compensation on personal level and they are getting the best treatment at the burns unit of CMCH. We will be working to secure the future of children whose fathers died in this accident. We are innocent and all allegations are baseless.”