An explosion at an illegal firecracker unit located at Egra in Purba Medinipur district of West Bengal killed nine people and injured several others on Tuesday, a senior police officer said.
The impact of the explosion was so massive that the factory which was being run from a residential building collapsed.
Villagers said that the site looked like a "war zone" with body parts and debris strewn all around, including in a nearby pond.
While the state government ordered a CID probe into the incident, the opposition BJP demanded an investigation by the NIA and wrote a letter to Union Home Minister Amit Shah in this regard.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said, "The illegal firecracker unit was functioning at a house in a village near the West Bengal-Odisha border. The firecrackers manufactured there used to be sent to Odisha. Local labourers were working there." Banerjee, also 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.
On the BJP’s demand for a probe by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), she said, "We do not have any objection (to it). It is the district of their leaders, so they have some formula. Let the investigators find out." Leader of the opposition in the West Bengal Assembly Suvendu Adhikari of the BJP hails from Purba Medinipur district.
A police officer said sacks of explosive materials were seized from a “hidden chamber” in the collapsed house.
A preliminary investigation found that five of the deceased and seven injured were working in the factory.
The chief minister said action will be taken against the chief of Egra police station as "he had no information that an illegal firecracker unit was operating" in the area.
Banerjee said the owner of the illegal firecracker unit, who was arrested in October last year for running the factory, has fled to Odisha 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.
Bhunia said, "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 that his department and the West Bengal Pollution Control Board will intensify the campaign, asking everyone to alert the administration about the existence of illegal firecracker units operating in their respective areas.
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.
Adhikari 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.
On this allegation, the chief minister said only 13 people were working there.
“So, where will the bodies be shifted? Is it the time to indulge in politics instead of sending the injured to hospitals? They (BJP) are not allowing the police to get the bodies. I will request them to be human before being a political leader," Banerjee said.
Tagging Union Home Minister Amit Shah and state Governor CV Ananda Bose, Adhikari urged them in another tweet to initiate an NIA probe into the incident as early as possible.
BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar said he has written to Shah, demanding an NIA probe into the incident.
“Under the TMC regime, you won't find any normal industry, but bomb-making factories have flourished due to the patronage of local TMC leaders. Bombs produced here will be used in the upcoming panchayat polls," Majumdar said.
“The BJP intends to malign the state. We don't support such an incident. Let the investigation be over," TMC state spokesperson Kunal Ghosh 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.
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