An explosion ripped through a firecracker factory in a residential neighbourhood in Punjab’s Batala town on Wednesday afternoon, killing 23 people and injuring another 27.
The blast, which occurred around 3.45pm, also damaged nearby buildings and shattered the windows of residences and commercial establishments in a 200 metre radius.
The exact cause of the blast was not immediately known. Local residents said the explosion could be heard across the town, roughly 200 km from state capital Chandigarh.
Inspector general Surinderpal Singh Parmar, who confirmed the death toll said the legal status of the factory was under probe.
“In initial investigation, it was learned that a large quantity of explosives lying in the factory,” sub-divisional magistrate Balbir Raj Singh said, confirming the timing of the blast.
An elderly woman and her grandchild, who were passing close to the disaster spot, were among the dead.
This is not the first time an accident has taken place at the factory. On January 21, 2017, a similar blast had rocked the factory, killing one person and injuring three others. At that time, the administration had ordered the cancellation of the factory’s licence.
“It (the blast) was so powerful that I fell unconscious for a long time,” said Sahib Singh, who had gone to the factory to buy firecrackers for the 532nd marriage anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of the Sikh faith, popularly known as “Babe Da Viah” which falls on September 5.
Punjab minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa reached the accident spot and announced a compensation of ~2 lakh to the next of kin of the dead and ₹50,000 for the injured. “Deeply anguished to learn of the loss of lives due to the blast in the firecracker factory in Batala,” chief minister Amarinder Singh tweeted.
The deaths included the owner of the factory and six of his relatives who were staying on the first floor of the factory building, said police. Labourers working at the factory and local residents were also among the dead. “As I heard the blast, I rushed to spot and I was shocked to see dead bodies lying on the
road and drain,” said Satpal Singh, a labourer.
Locals said the firecracker unit was manufacturing and storing crackers for ‘nagar kirtan’ - a religious procession marking Guru Nanak’s marriage anniversary celebrations - slated to reach the town late Wednesday evening.