KOLKATA, May 16 (PTI): An explosion at an illegal firecracker unit located in Egra in Purba Medinipur district of West Bengal killed five people and critically injured seven others on Tuesday, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said.
The impact of the explosion “was so massive” that the factory, which was being run from a residential building, collapsed, police said.
Senior BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari demanded a probe by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) into the incident.
Villagers told PTI that the entire house looked like a “war zone” with body parts and debris strewn all around, including in a nearby pond.
“The illegal firecracker unit was functioning at a house in a village near the West Bengal-Odisha border. Five people were killed and seven others were critically injured in the blast. An investigation is underway,” Banerjee said.
“The firecrackers were being sent to Odisha and local labourers were working there,” she said, adding that the state Criminal Investigation Department (CID) is probing the incident.
The Trinamool Congress supremo said the next of kin of the deceased will get a compensation of Rs 2.5 lakh each and the injured will get Rs 1 lakh, while the state government will bear the expenses of their treatment.
The CM said action will be taken against the local police chief of Egra police station as “he had no information that an illegal firecracker unit was operating” in the area.
Speaking on the BJP demand for an NIA probe, Banerjee said she has no objection to the central agency taking over the investigation.
“We do not have any objection to the NIA probe. But I would like to point out that the probe by the CID has already started,” she said.
Preliminary investigation found that all the five deceased and seven injured were working in the factory, a police officer said.
Banerjee said the owner of the illegal firecracker unit, who was arrested in October last year for running the factory, has fled to neighbouring Odisha after Tuesday’s explosion.
“He was arrested in October last year but got bail from the court. He fled the state soon after the explosion. I will ask the police to share his details with their counterparts in Odisha so that he is arrested immediately,” she said.
The TMC chief claimed that the panchayat where the incident took place is being run by an Independent politician backed by the BJP, and TMC workers were not allowed to enter the village.
Policemen were attacked by villagers when they visited the spot.
Alleging that BJP and CPI(M) had been regularly “instigating” people to beat up policemen, Banerjee said strong action will be taken against the culprits.
“Police are the custodian (of law). Strong action must be taken against those assaulting law enforcers. I believe people have the right to demonstrate, but they must not assault policemen,” Banerjee added.
She asked Environment Minister Manas Ranjan Bhunia and another local MLA to visit the spot.
Alleging that West Bengal has become a “stockpile of explosives”, Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari urged Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Governor C V Ananda Bose to initiate an NIA probe into the Egra blast.
The LoP also demanded that central forces be immediately deployed in the area, while fearing that the state police might illegally shift the bodies.
“Huge explosion in Sahara village in Egra, Purba Medinipur, at the local TMC leader Krishnapada Bag’s (alias Bhanu) house. I am receiving news from the ground that the number of casualties is enormous. Immediately, central forces should be deployed as dead bodies are being shifted illegally by Mamata Police,” Adhikari alleged in a tweet.
“I urge @HMOIndia & Hon’ble @BengalGovernor to initiate @NIA_India investigation as early as possible. Bengal has become the stockpile of explosives…,” he said in another Twitter post.
Bhunia said his department and the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB) will intensify the campaign, asking everyone to alert the administration about the existence of illegal firecracker units operating in their respective areas.
“We had earlier undertaken a campaign to build awareness among the public in this regard. We need the help of the public to fight the menace,” he said.
On March 20, three people were killed in a blaze at a fireworks unit at Mahestala in South 24 Parganas district. In December, 2022, three people were killed in a blast in a firecracker factory at Bhupatinagar in Purba Medinipur district.
After the incident in South 24 Parganas district, Bhunia had said green fireworks clusters adhering to all environment guidelines will be set up far away from congested areas.