Sivakasi tragedy: Mourning at Diwali this year

Reports indicate that facilities at the government hospitals at Sivakasi are far from satisfactory and inadequate, besides being poorly equipped. It is important that the state takes adequate measures for management of healthcare in local hospitals to ensure speedy treatment in case of emergencies 

This Diwali will be a day of national mourning for the people who lost their lives in the unfortunate Sivakasi tragedy at the Om Sakthi Fireworks factory on Wednesday, due to poor safety measures.

 

Reports indicate that so far 39 people have lost their lives, many of whom were neighbours working in the surrounding areas, who came to the site on hearing the explosions, the first of which was heard at 12.20pm and followed by another some 40 minutes later.

 

The Department of Explosives had, in fact, cancelled the license of the firm only one day earlier, apparently after several warnings were issued to the owners for not adhering to the minimum safety standards. As many as 40 violations had been found before necessitating the licence cancellation. Murugesan, the owner, and other responsible people of the unit are reported to have fled the scene of this unfortunate tragedy.

 

Sivakasi, in Tamil Nadu, is the home of India’s largest fireworks production, employing more than 40,000 workers directly in some 450 factories with a very large number of other workers involved in related services.

 

The safety inspectors and Fire Service Officers are permitted to demand the factory owners to either comply with safety norms required or stop the operations until the required measures are in place. So, instead of simply issuing the order for cancellation of the licence, the safety authorities ought to have enforced the rule of locking out the factory premises. Such a move would have made the factory owners to comply with the safety standards and the loss of lives could have been avoided.  

 

Further reports in the press and the news channels indicate that facilities at the government hospitals at Sivakasi are far from satisfactory and inadequate, besides being poorly equipped, considering the huge working population in these fireworks factories, many of which are on a small scale. Literally, everyone in this town is some way or other involved in the fireworks industry. This is a cottage industry, both licensed and many illegal and even underage children are reportedly employed in these units.

 

The accident victims, due to poor medical facilities available locally, had to be taken to Madurai by motor vehicles and other nearby areas, many of whom died after being admitted in the hospitals. They may have died because of the transit delays.

 

As is usual with such tragedies, TN chief minister Jayalalithaa has announced various compensation packages for the victims, for loss of life, injury, etc. While this is an important and humanitarian act, what is more realistic, for the future, is to ensure that the existing facilities at the local hospitals are improved.

 

It appears that the district administrator had sent in a proposal to the state government last year, involving a capital expenditure of Rs4 crore, against which a sanction for Rs60 lakh has been received, as per media reports.

 

While the compensation package may give relief to the families of the victims, the fact remains that measures for the future, to prevent such incidents occurring in the place of work has not been put in place.

 

Equally important, therefore, is the immediate government measures to close all the unlicensed units; close those who do not have safety standards in place; ensure all the employees in such sites have proper insurance cover; increase the number of fire engines and related personnel in the areas of work and direct the police to locate the owners and bring them to justice.

 

No excuses and no leniency in safety measures should be tolerated.

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