Dombivli factory blast: Why should we vote next year, ask angry residents

One week on from the chemical factory blasts, Dombivli wounds still raw as angry residents rue neglect and official apathy

On the main road in Dombivli's MIDC Phase-II, it seems like hustle 'n’ bustle as usual. It is teeming with pedestrians, and vehicles. You could hardly guess that a week ago, life came to a halt here. Shockwaves from an explosion in a nearby chemical factory, pierced through the lives and altered the psyche of residents.

Also read - Dombivli blast: Factory owners booked for culpable homicide

V Sundar looks at the wreck at her sister’s home in a building. Pics/Sameer Markande
V Sundar looks at the wreck at her sister’s home in a building. Pics/Sameer Markande

The sun shone stoically on Thursday morning, as if to convey the mood of the area. Labourers trudged mechanically in and out of the factories at the site of the blasts, working on excavating its remains. Pushpavilla Society residents, one of the buildings that shares a common boundary with the chemical factories where the explosion occurred, looked from their windows at the charred remains of what was once a flourishing industrial site.

The Shindes are rearranging things at their home
The Shindes are rearranging things at their home

One can sense the mood of anger here. It has been a week since the blasts, yet, no one from the government has offered any real assistance.

Heena Mehta, with a door which needs to be refitted
Heena Mehta, with a door which needs to be refitted

“Today is the seventh day since the blasts, but still, not one official from Kalyan Dombivli Municipal Commission (KDMC) has come to conduct a structural audit of the building,” said Rajiv Tiwari (40), Pushpavilla resident. “Now, we have no other option but to carry out a private audit, and pay for it ourselves. At least do the bare minimum and install doors in the common toilets of this building. How are people supposed to use toilets without doors?”

Also read - Dombivli factory blast: Toll rises to 6, management booked

Bhikaji B shows the stitches he received after glass shards pierced his body
Bhikaji B shows the stitches he received after glass shards pierced his body

The hurt is still festering. “The Chief Minister (CM) came for a bit, but only at the site of the blast,” said Sunil Bobade (45), a rickshaw driver. “He did not even come once to the neighbouring buildings to see the extent of the damage. It would have felt nice to know that someone was looking out for us, and will be taking care of us.”

“Let the election come next year," said Sushant Shinde (28), referring to the upcoming 2017 Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) election. “We will make sure that no one enters the building for promotional purposes. Why should we vote? When the blasts happened, not a single official came to see if we were okay.”

Residents who have alternate houses in the satellite town of Dombivali, have shifted there, along with their families. For others, however, moving isn’t an option; their homes in MIDC are the only ones they have. Most of the families live on a fixed income, one that is going to be stretched thinner than ever before, as they repair their damaged houses. “Officials from the tehsildar’s office came to do a punchanama of the damages, but have not given us a date when we will get the compensation, or a figure of how much compensation we will receive,” said Tiwari. “They (the officials) even refused to give us their contact numbers.”

Word on the street is that each affected household will receive an average compensation of R 12,000, a sum that doesn’t come close to covering the cost of incurred damages.

Also read - Thane: 3 killed in a explosion at a chemical factory at Dombivli

“There is a sense of fear in us, and it’s going to be there for a long time,” said Heena Mehta (46), another MIDC resident. “We jump at the smallest of sounds, and fear that what happened last week, can happen anytime again. Hopefully, they will move the factories out of here.”

Mumbaikars have always been symbolic of resilience. They have prided themselves on their ability to bounce back after disasters. This time though that resilience seems to be wearing thin. As one sees wood being sawed everywhere and glass being cut for windows, it is evident that people are trying to piece together their lives, angry at the neglect, they are also fearful of what the impending monsoon might bring.

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