Factory blast in Gujarat exposes Govt cruelty towards workers

It is noteworthy that the provisions of factory safety have been further relaxed through the new labour codes that the Modi Government passed forcefully in the last Parliament session.

In Ahmedabad, a major blast in a chemical boiler factory killed 12 people, including five women, and injured nine others. Such incidents have become extremely common, especially in Gujarat, but the Government remains apathetic. In fact, the new labour codes devised by the Modi Government will further put workers’ health and safety at risk.
 
On Wednesday, at 11.22 am, a chemical boiler factory owned by Shahil Enterprises set on fire due to an unidentified, suspicious chemical stored by them. The factory engages in chemical production and is located at ‘Revabhai Nanu Kaka’ estate, 500 meters from the Pirana dumping site, on Piplaj road.

Locals stated that they heard six blasts that took place in a small shop measuring around 25 and 50 feet. The explosions caused the factory to collapse along three of the four godowns nearby, including Kanika Texo Fab godown where 12 texile workers, including five women, were fatally injured from charring or asphyxiation, or debris impact. 25 people were trapped in total.

24 fire brigades and 60 personnel had to be deployed to curb the fires.

“Twelve persons were declared brought dead, while nine are undergoing treatment. Of the total 22 who were brought to the hospital, there were eight women and 14 men.” LG Hospital assistant resident medical officer Dr Gopal Desai said in his statement to The Indian Express. 

Repeated factory blasts in Gujarat

factory blast
Chemical factory blast killed 10 workers in Gujarat in June| Courtesy Matters India

Congress questioned the Rupani Government for letting the factory run despite not meeting safety regulations and standards. A preliminary investigation found that the factory did not have a proper fire safety certificate. An inquiry has been ordered into the matter but the owner is absconding.

The Gujarat government has announced a compensation of Rs. 4 lakh ex gratia to the families of the victims. However, this does not sufficiently address the continued issue of blasts across the country, and especially in Gujarat.

Retired Deputy Chief Fire Officer Bhargava Parikh stated that such incidences of death of workers due to boiler explosion has increased in Gujarat. He stated:

“There are no rules in textile factories in Gujarat. Boiler factories are required to obtain a license every 6 months as per regulations, but no one does. because of this, the metal of the boiler weakens and the automatic pressure valve does not release when the pressure increases. Many people also use flammable chemicals in the boiler, which spoils the boiler and kills workers. ”

Such incidents are on the rise because of Gujarat and other Governments’ apathy towards workers, and supports of factory owners. As of August 22nd, at least 130 workers died in industrial accidents in Gujarat during the first seven months of 2020. Of these, 57% were reported in four months after the COVID-19 lockdown was lifted, as industries were reopening. The families were also not given dues of Rs 8.71 crore since the labour courts were largely shut because of COVID.

Related: Factory Accidents on the Rise: 130 Workers Have Died

On June 3rd, at least ten died and 48 others were critically injured in a boiler blast at Bharuch chemical factory in Gujarat. The accident was so big that DISH had to close unit and order a safety audit of all their factories. Seven employees were also booked by the police for culpable homicide not amounting to murder, causing gracious hurt, negligent conduct with fire and other charges. Anticipatory bail was rejected by the Gujarat HC. Considering this, the negligence of the State and factory officials with regards to safety regulations at Shahil Enterprises shows extreme callousness regarding worker’s lives. A similar blast also occurred at Surat in September at an ONGC plant.

Threat of new labour laws

labour codes protest
Workers protest new labour laws | Courtesy: Workers Unity

It is noteworthy that the provisions of factory safety have been further relaxed through the new labour codes that the Modi Government passed forcefully in the last Parliament session. These labor codes will be notified from April 1, after which factory workers will be further disenfranchised, and their safety under worse threat.

Twenty-nine central laws on labour were subsumed into four codes, the first of which related to wages and was passed in 2019. The three codes passed in this parliamentary session are the Industrial Relations Code Bill, 2020, Code on Social Security Bill, 2020 and Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code Bill, 2020. The news codes allow employers to hire and fire workers as they please, reduce the power of trade unions, make it impossible for workers to legally strike, and glaringly relax penal provisions for employers who violate labour laws.

Combined with the changes made to the wage code, all this forces workers to work under precarious situations while empowering employers to ignore laws meant for safety of the workers and areas around the factory without fear of strikes or legal action. Thus, such blasts may rise even further once the codes are notified.

Read More: Three New Labour Codes Introduced by Labour Ministry Amidst Strong Opposition

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