Eleven people were killed, and 174 others were injured after a fire erupted at an unlicensed firecracker factory in Madhya Pradesh’s Harda on Tuesday, triggering several blasts. The factory, in existence for over two decades, had a history of operating without a valid license and lacking necessary safety precautions.
The roots of the problem trace back to 2017 when the owners of the cracker unit applied for a license renewal under The Explosives Act. The then Harda district collector discovered that the factory, located on the outskirts of Harda town, approximately 150 km from the state capital Bhopal, was manufacturing crackers without a required license. The existing permit only allowed the stocking and selling of crackers and sparklers, including those of Chinese origin.
Despite this violation, the factory continued its operations until it was sealed by authorities in 2017, remaining non-operational at least until August 2018. However, the factory resumed operations in 2018-19, managing to renew its stocking and sale license until 2022.
Another blast three years ago at the same factory claimed the lives of three women labourers from a single family. In 2021, another incident took place, resulting in the death of three individuals. One of the factory owners, Rajesh Agrawal, was arrested in connection with the 2021 incident but was later released on bail. Despite the recurring mishaps and safety concerns, the factory’s license was renewed in 2022, allowing the manufacturing of crackers to continue until the recent tragedy.
The Agarwal family, politically well-connected individuals who own the factory, faced accusations of attempting to influence the Harda district administration to reopen the factory in 2017-18. However, their efforts were thwarted by the then-district collector, who prioritised safety over political influence.
The factory owners, Rajesh Agrawal and Somesh Agrawal, have been arrested, while another individual, Rafiq Khan, has been detained in connection with the blast.
The blast resulted in black smoke engulfing the entire area, with shattered window panes of nearby houses and shops bearing witness to the intensity of the explosion. A video capturing the horrifying scene showed tall flames and thick smoke billowing from the factory. On the adjacent road, residents were seen fleeing in fear as smoke engulfed the area.
The aftermath revealed that dozens of houses in the vicinity were burned, and eyewitnesses compared the impact to an earthquake hitting Harda. Additionally, several vehicles were caught in the flames ignited by the explosions.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Mohan Yadav visited Hamidia Hospital in the state capital to meet the injured.
“I have asked for an inspection report of similar places from all the districts. We will take action that they will remember,” he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also extended his condolences to the victims of the tragedy. In an official statement from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), PM Modi said, “Distressed by the loss of lives due to the mishap at a cracker factory in Harda, Madhya Pradesh. Condolences to all those who have lost their loved ones. May those injured recover at the earliest. The local administration is assisting all those affected.”
PM Modi announced financial aid for the families of the victims, stating, “Rs 2 lakh from PMNRF would be given to the next of kin of each deceased. The injured will be given Rs 50,000.”