The residents of Hyderabad’s Gampala Basti were in a deep slumber on Friday morning, when an explosion shattered their window panes, which sent them running for their lives.
A fire had broken out in the Seutic Pharma Private Limited, a pharmaceutical company in Jeedimetla. One of the reactors of the company exploded and gutted the entire factory, which then spread to the factory next to it.
Six people were injured in the fire, and were admitted to a private hospital for treatment. There were no casualties. The condition of two of the workers is said to be critical.
It took nearly seven hours for firefighters to douse the fire.
After locals in the area alerted the police, six fire engines from Jeedimetla, Kukatpally, Sanathnagar, Secunderabad, Cherlapally and Madhapur were pressed into service to contain the fire.
“The reactor blew during the grid knot reaction when the shift of few employees ended,” said Srinivas Reddy, the Inspector of Factories of Medchal district.
Locals in the area woke up to thick smoke. One of the chemicals also apparently reacted with the water, which caused eye-irritation.
“I was in deep sleep. There was a loud noise of something blasting. Horrified, we gathered our children and left the house immediately,” said a visibly shaken woman, who resides right behind the factory.
Twenty families who dwell in a small building behind the factory returned to their homes after the police pacified their fears and informed them that the fire had been doused.
“A huge barrel fell right behind our house. The explosion rocked our houses, and our window panes were shattered,” a boy who resides in the area said.
Even as the fire was being contained, a verbal duel ensued between those who live in the area and the residents who own godowns.
‘We can’t live in constant fear’
A few residents of Subhash Nagar, adjacent to Gampala Basti, staged a dharna and demanded that the authorities close down all the factories in the locality as fire-related incidents have become a regular occurrence.
According to locals, there are around 250 factories in the locality which have been polluting the groundwater and contaminating the air, which they say is causing respiratory illnesses like asthma in children.
M Satish Reddy, a resident of Subhash Nagar and one of the protesters said that they staged the protest so that people could take note.
“The factories have contaminated the air and water. Our children are suffering from asthma and fever, which persists for longer than usual. These companies should be closed down at once by the authorities. Nobody comes here to take note of our plight, so we staged this protest,” he said.
“There is a fire accident during the summer every year. When the temperature rises the reactors blast, as a result of which 10-20 people die. It is a regular occurrence; but our issue never comes out as there is a nexus between companies, authorities and politicians who keep the issue under the carpet,” he said. Sai, also a protester, said the smoke resembles fog. “The smoke emanating from these factories resemble fog. They are extremely toxic which affects our health,” he said.
B Krishna Veni, another protester said that they cannot live in constant fear.
“Today, when we were protesting demanding that the authorities seal the companies, a few locals who own godowns opposed us because they fear that their livelihood would be lost if the companies go away. But, they don’t understand that the problem is that these companies are situated in a residential area. God forbid if any such major explosion happens again, many people will die. We can’t live in constant fear,” Veni said.
Plight of residents
The families say that although they know that their lives are always in jeopardy, they cannot go elsewhere, owing to their poor financial background.
Most women who reside there make utensils like tawas or pans by melting iron.
“We earn Rs 100 every day. The rent we pay is Rs 1,000, which is within our budget. If we move out from this place, the rent for a house outside is Rs 2,000- Rs 3,000. How can we afford that? We children to feed also,” one of the women said.
“Our life is under constant threat. We want the authorities to remove these factories. We have small children and lactating women. Today none of us were injured, but we won’t be lucky every time,” she stated.
Even as locals complain of diseases and demand that these companies be closed down, authorities say that it is not a residential area but an industrial area.
“This place is meant for factories. Factories came here first, then people bought small plots and are living here,” said Srinivas Reddy, Inspector of Factories.