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Another fire incident takes lives of garment workers! A deeper look into the sorry state of affairs

by Dheeraj Tagra

21-November-2018  |  7 mins read

fire incident
The street, where an illegal factory was operational from nearly 20 years | Image Courtesy: dnaindia.com

Four people including two women were killed and one got injured in a recent fire incident at a garment factory in the national capital, Delhi. The factory was being run illegally at a residential area and produced garments for the domestic market. According to reports, the factory had narrow exits and so workers faced difficulties to escape from fire. According to fire brigade officials, the blaze started at 12.23 pm in Beadonpura area (Karol Bagh) after a solvent, used for laundering clothes, spilled out on the floor accidentally. Two fire tenders were rushed to the spot and the situation was brought under control by 12.50 pm.

The victims were about to steam iron clothes and were putting solvent in a container when it spilt on the floor and came in contact with the steam iron, triggering the fire. The deceased workers have been identified as Bagan Prasahad (55), R M Naresh (40), Asha (40) and Aarti (20). The owner of the house, Ajay Khurana has been arrested and a case under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) was registered.

These images are of few years back in various factories of Delhi. Even today few factories have the same situation where operators still use LPG cylinder to prepare their food on the shop floor and sleep there too, as the factory is their home also. Hundreds of these factories don’t provide any space to their operators for having their lunch and therefore they are forced to eat on the shop floor. | Apparel Resources

Around six workers were ironing clothes on the first floor of the building which is located in a congested locality. Ajit, the sustained worker in this sad incident, said that he was packing material when the fire broke out and he somehow managed to escape.

Garment Workers
As factories are in residential areas, sometime children play in its vicinity, as seen in the image | Apparel Resources

There are thousands of small and medium size illegal garment factories operational in the residential areas of Gandhi Nagar, Raghubarpura, Kailash Nagar, Tank Road, Karol Bagh, Mandawali and many allied areas of Delhi. Most of the streets, where these factories operate, are so narrow that even fire tenders cannot enter the place. In 2018, so far, nearly four such unfortunate accidents have taken place in above mentioned areas and three workers lost their lives in the mishaps.

The image reflects unhygienic working conditions.
The image reflects unhygienic working conditions. | Apparel Resources

Apparel Resources had raised these serious issues of negligence earlier also warning of any such untoward incident.

Offering fabric to entire range of garments, Gandhi Nagar is the biggest garment market of Asia and majority of manufacturing at this place is unorganized and in illegal areas.

Kanwal Kumar Bali, the veteran of this area and President, Delhi Hosiery and Readymade Garments manufacturers Association, Delhi informed Apparel Resources, “Government, local administration and factory owners are equally responsible for this mess and now the situation is even worse.”

Kanwal Kumar Bali
Kanwal Kumar Bali, President, Delhi Hosiery and Readymade Garments manufacturers Association, Delhi | Apparel Resources

He further added that due to recent sealing operations under Supreme Court, nearly 350 such factories had been sealed. A large number of such factories have been already shifted from here and many are in the process but due to growing demand in recent months land price in nearby industrial areas in Ghaziabad or Bawana, Patparganj etc. in Delhi have been increased by more than 40 per cent. The association is also motivating its members to shift their manufacturing from here.

Small and medium level factories in these areas do have many other problems. Markets like Gandhi Nagar and Tank Road have no proper and enough arrangement for parking, traffic jams and unhygienic conditions.

It is worth mentioning here that unlike the export factories which are worried about compliance, none of the NGOs or buyers think about about compliance or even the proper execution of law of the land. In apparel export, there is a lot of pressure and safety check from the buyer side. If some similar initiatives can take place in these manufacturing areas, the condition can improve.

Garment Workers
Some of the factories in these areas use branded sewing machines but they are lacking on safety issue. Such as, unsafe practice of using wire without proper plugging into socket, as seen in the image. | Apparel Resources

“Until mass shifting of factories does not take place from here, such sad incident can happen any time. As all the workers are migratory, they will go along with the factories,” KK Bali concluded.

The issue of unorganized and illegal garment factories is not only confined to Gandhi Nagar, Karol Bagh or few other areas of Delhi. Ludhiana, another major hub of textile and apparel manufacturing, also faces a similar situation. The city witnessed many sad incidents of fire, last summers.