New Delhi: Among the string of politicians that rushed to north Delhi’s Bawana where a massive fire at a firecracker warehouse claimed 17 lives on Saturday evening, was BJP leader and North Delhi mayor Preeti Aggarwal. Ms Aggarwal was quick to attack Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, questioning his absence at the site, nearly five hours after the tragedy struck. But a huge self-goal followed. In a video that is bound to cause major embarrassment for her party, Ms Aggarwal is seen whispering to one of her aides, “iss factory ki licensing hamare paas hai, isliye hum kuch nahi bol sakte (the licensing of the factory is with us, hence we can’t say anything)”.
As the video went viral and was retweeted by the Chief Minister, Ms Aggarwal said that she only “meant that we shouldn’t say anything about such unfortunate incidents at this time”. She also demanded an apology from the Chief Minister. “Is making a fake video viral and confusing the public fair? It’s condemnable and I expect Arvind Kejriwal ji to apologise.”
The North Delhi Mayor’s remarks, caught on camera, assume significance as the police investigate the cause of the fire, looking into aspects of licensing and negligence.
The police have arrested Manoj Jain, the owner of the company which operated from the warehouse. He claims that his company deals with packaging of low-intensity “cold firecrackers”, meant to be sold during Holi. He also told cops that he was running the factory alone and had taken it on rent.
The police are investigating the nature of the explosives used in the said firecrackers and whether he had the license to operate out of the warehouse.
A senior police official, Rajneesh Gupta, said they were also investigating if firecrackers were being manufactured at the warehouse.
Roop Prakash, one of the survivors, told NDTV that “only packing of firecrackers used to take place, not manufacturing” at the unit that, he said, had started operations only a fortnight ago. “Chinese firecrackers used to be packed in the building,” Mr Prakash said.
The police have filed cases including for culpable homicide not amounting to murder and negligence.
The fire broke out around 6:20 pm in the ground floor of the warehouse – which also has a basement – that has only one exit at the front. As the blaze quickly spread upwards from the basement – trapping most of the workers on the upper floors – two employees ran to the terrace and jumped. Both have suffered fractures in their legs.
Fifteen fire engines were rushed to the spot; rescuers took nearly three hours to put out the fire.