Batala (Punjab): A major blast at a firecracker factory in Batala town of Punjab killed over 23 people and injured more than a dozen others, some of them seriously. Located on the Samadh road, the illegal factory was being run in a densely populated residential area.
Batala Senior Medical Officer Sanjiv Bhalla said, "A total of 23 people have died in the blast." Apart from one of the factory’s owners, most of those killed were workers of the illegal unit, DIG (border range) SPS Parmar said. A couple of people passing in front of the factory were also killed in the blast. The locals said that the explosion was so loud that it could be heard a few km away. The explosion also damaged buildings nearby, shattering windowpanes and even bringing down the roofs of a couple of them. Several cars parked nearby were also damaged and some vehicles fell into the nearby nullah due to the intensity of the blast.
A Batala resident Rajpal Khokkar was passing by when the explosion took place. "When I heard the loud blast, I fell down. When I gained consciousness, I found myself in hospital," he said. Though the exact cause of the explosion was yet to be ascertained, Parmar said a huge cache of firecrackers were stored in the factory, which could have caught fire. Nearly a dozen fire tenders, along with police and NDRF teams, rushed to the spot for rescue and relief operations. Hundreds of students of nearby school had a miraculous escape as the blast took place about half-an-hour after the school ended.
Gurdaspur deputy commissioner Vipul Ujjwal said the condition of the seven injured persons was critical and they had been referred to Guru Nanak Dev Hospital in Amritsar. People in the neighbourhood said they had submitted several complaints to the Batala administration against the firecracker factory in the residential area. The factory was working round-the-clock to complete orders for the ensuing festive season.
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh directed the additional deputy commissioner (Batala) to conduct an inquiry into the tragic incident. He also announced an ex gratia grant of Rs 200,000 to the kin of each deceased, Rs 50,000 each for the seven severely injured and Rs 25,000 each for those with minor injuries.