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Indian authorities take action after fatal Sivakasi firework factory explosion

07 September 2012

Police have arrested 12 people following the September 5 explosion and fire that destroyed the Om Sakthi Fireworks Industries factory at Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu state, Southern India. The arrested include the factory foreman and three contractors. The owner is being sought by the police.

Thirty-eight people died and 55 were injured in the blast and subsequent blaze, according to The Hindu, and local authorities have been directed to make an immediate inspection of all firework production facilities by the state government.

Other sources say 70 people were injured, 40 seriously.

According to an official Tamil Nadu government press release, an investigation will be held into why the factory was still operational on September 5, a day after its license had been cancelled due to unsafe working conditions.

An inspection on August 28 by the Deputy Chief Controller of Explosives, Sivakasi, noted many infractions to regulations, including chemical products stored in excess of permissible levels and more employees on site than allowed. 

Citing these violations, the official ordered the revocation of the company’s production license on September 4.

The State government has also released funds to set up a specialist burns unit at the Sivakasi government hospital, including an intensive care unit, operating theatre, plastic surgery unit, orthopaedic unit, physiotherapy unit, burns ward and rehabilitation centre.

Total expenditure on this project will be 45 million rupees ($0.81m), and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa says the burns unit will be a centre of excellence under the control of the Madurai Medical College Hospital. 

According to local sources, 237 have been killed over the last 12 years in accidents in Sivakasi’s 88 firecracker and firework factories.

The Indian Commerce and Industry Minister, Anand Sharma, has also ordered an inquiry into the incident, to be conducted by senior India Administative Service officer Chaitanya Prasad.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed deep shock over the tragedy and announced ex-gratia payments of Rs.200,000 ($3,600) to the next of the kin of the dead, in addition to the sums disbursed by state authorities, which have been set at Rs.200,000 for the families of the dead, Rs.25,000 for the severely injured and Rs.10,000 for those with minor injuries.

In an editorial, The Times of India said: “State and central governments have predictably expressed shock and grief at the horrendous tragedy in Sivakasi and announcements of compensation have also been made. But that is not enough. What we need is a stringent regulatory regime for what is a hazardous industry. More importantly, whatever regulations and laws are put in place must be enforced. Unless this is done, such tragedies will keep recurring with depressing regularity and we can continue to express grief and shock to no effect."

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