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Dombivli factory fire: Blaze 2 fuels fight between residents and industrial units

Updated on: 13 June,2024 07:26 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Eshan Kalyanikar |

Remains of some victims of last month’s tragedy still lying at Kalyan’s Rukminibai hospital

Dombivli factory fire: Blaze 2 fuels fight between residents and industrial units

A building gutted by the blaze in the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation area of Dombivli. Pic/Shadab Khan

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Dombivli factory fire: Blaze 2 fuels fight between residents and industrial units

Just 20 days after a blast occurred in Dombivli’s Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) area, claiming eight lives, explosions were witnessed after a fire broke out at the same spot on Wednesday morning. No injuries were reported. The site, near Abhinav school, was veiled in smoke while the air reeked of chemicals. Locals had to wear masks to avoid inhaling poisonous gases.

For residents living just a few blocks from the MIDC area, even the sound of firecrackers engulfs them in fear and anxiety. Three devastating incidents of fires and blasts since 2016 have left them on edge, forcing them to flee their homes to the nearest safety point whenever they occur.

The area near Abhinav school in Dombivli where the fire broke out on Wednesday morning. Pic/Shadab Khan
The area near Abhinav school in Dombivli where the fire broke out on Wednesday morning. Pic/Shadab Khan

The factories are surrounded by new and redeveloped buildings. Ninad Sarang, an auditor at the Indian Register of Shipping, has been living close to the MIDC near Abhinav School for the last ten years with his wife and 10-year-old daughter. He and his family saw the smoke and fire first, and then heard the blasts yet again, rushing quickly to safety in the interior of the area, a 10-minute distance from the factories.

“There have been issues in the area from the beginning, but it was limited to the mild smell of chemicals emanating from the factories. Then came the 2016 blast,” Ninad said. The May 2016 boiler blast at Probase Enterprises in MIDC Phase-II and the subsequent fire in the area claimed the lives of at least 12 people and damaged hundreds of houses.” “Last month, we had to evacuate the area after the blast at Amudan Chemical Private Limited, another chemical factory,” Ninad recalled.

Bags of remains

That blast left about eight dead and over 60 injured. All were labourers or employees at the factories impacted by the blast. Their bodies were torn to pieces, some charred beyond identification, and some of their body parts still lie at the post-mortem centre at Kalyan Dombivli Municipal Corporation’s Rukminibai hospital.

Dr Purshottam Tike, the hospital’s chief medical officer, said it was only on Saturday and Sunday that the body parts of three people were handed over to their relatives. “We have dispatched 14 bags of body parts to the relatives of three individuals. About four to five bags belong to one person each. Twelve bags of unidentified body parts are still with us; they will be dispatched once the Ulhasnagar crime branch identifies them.” He added, “There is still one unidentified, unclaimed body with us, but its DNA report is not ready.”

Tussle with MIDC

There has been a tussle between the residents near the blast site and the MIDC, where the latter has been insisting that the factories were present before it became a residential area. “If that is the case, why were builders allowed to construct in such an unsafe area? Nobody told us it could be a matter of life and death to live here,” said Sneha Jain, another resident in Ninad’s building. Her 16-year-old son Purab Jain recalled the harrowing moment when his school evacuated all the students soon after the blast in 2016. “I was a child in Std V when a blast occurred here in 2016. Today, even if I hear the sound of some utensil falling at home, I am terrified,” he said.

Some families are considering relocating. “Selling this house will now be a challenge. Who would want to live here after these blasts?” Ninad said. Some residents, like Rasika Patil, who is part of BJP’s Mahila Morcha, refute the government’s claim that factories arrived first. “There were chawls in this area from the pre-independence era, with large patches of trees. Eventually, MIDC took over the land, and as time passed, the chawls turned into redeveloped buildings,” she said.

She claims her forefathers have lived in the same locality. Many residents like her want hazardous factories moved but do not want the industrial area as a whole to be wiped out. Kalpana Patil and Sushila Patil have lived in the area for 10 to 15 years. “We saw the smoke through our windows. Our children are employed in these factories. Who will be responsible if something happens to them? The chemical factories need to be relocated,” they said. MIDC officials were unavailable for comment till press time.

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