NGO demands probe by NHRC into Sivakasi fire tragedy

A risk analysis conducted by the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services Department a couple of years ago had categorised Virudhunagar as a “high-risk” district when it came to accidents in firecracker units, R. Nataraj, former Director-General of Police/Director of TNFRS, said on Wednesday.

Reacting to the devastating blaze in a firecracker factory near Sivakasi on Wednesday that left more than 50 people dead and an equal number of others injured, Mr. Nataraj blamed the violation of safety norms as the major cause of accidents in firework units.

“Stipulations on the quantity of explosive material to be used and the number of workers to be engaged are often given the go-by. Safety audit, risk analysis and drills are crucial factors that can help in the prevention or management of fire accidents. As part of an action plan to prevent accidents in firecracker units, a Standard Operating Procedure was drawn up,” he told The Hindu.

Joint inspection of firecracker units by officials from the TNFRS, Police and Revenue departments to check fire safety measures was imperative and the system was introduced recently.

“I have inspected many firecracker units in Sivakasi and found the rooms where firecrackers are made small and stuffy. Training the workers in fire prevention, rescue and relief operations should be taken up on priority.”

NHRC probe sought

Evidence, a Madurai-based human rights organisation, has sought a probe by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) into the circumstances that led to the fire tragedy at Sivakasi.

“Most of the victims of such accidents are those living below poverty line. They hardly get suitable compensation. Exposing the workers to hazardous jobs without training them in fire safety, prevention and management aspects is a violation of human rights,” A. Kathir, executive director of the NGO, said.

Claiming that hundreds of people were killed in accidents at firecracker units in Sivakasi alone in the last ten years, he said that a large number of child workers were rescued from these factories.

Urging the Government to launch a ‘fire workers victim protection programme’ to rehabilitate victims of accidents in firecracker manufacturing units, Mr. Kathir called for an urgent inspection of all hazardous industries in the State for compliance of safety standards.

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